Outlook good for downtown stores

Black Friday was in full swing at the malls last week, where frenzied consumers competed for the best deals, but a few miles away in Petaluma's downtown, shoppers and strollers leisurely ate, sampled wines and perused stores for gifts.

Their patronage gave downtown retailers, many of whom have weathered several difficult financial years during the recession, reason to believe this holiday season would be better.

From Sacks Hospice of Petaluma Thrift Store to Vintage Style Antiques to the fair trade shop One Planet, business seemed to be good.

"Holiday items are flying out of the store," said Noelle Marshall, proprietor at One Planet.

Marie McCusker, executive director of the Petaluma Downtown Association, said she is "quietly optimistic" about this year's shopping season. "Most shops are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and we have very low vacancies," she said, though she added that a few are "still suffering."

McCusker added that, in addition to the overall economy improving, businesses are finding creative ways to sell their products that extend beyond the physical storefront: "We try to provide every avenue to promote and showcase the downtown and the individual businesses, from our website to Facebook and sites like Pinterest."

Robindira Unsworth, who runs a jewelry store of the same name with her husband Robert, is one of many store owners who have adapted their business models to the internet age, selling her products online as well as in the store. Locally, she has found success in offering different price points for customers and a rewards program.

"We try to be mindful of the economy," she said.

While many Americans lined up in the wee hours at big box "brick and mortar" stores, and an increasing percentage visited online sites on Black Friday and "Cyber" Monday, a significant portion of the public chose to shop at locally owned stores. Driven by national promotions such as "Small Business Saturday" and the regional marketing efforts created by Petaluma's Downtown Association, shoppers had a strong reason to purchase at their favorite merchant's store.

In Petaluma, visitors and residents populated the sunny sidewalks over the weekend, popping into stores to browse and buy.

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