(T-G photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
Traffic on Black Friday seemed steady, while the following day -- Small Business Saturday -- was busy for some retailers and slower for others.
"This season has gone better than I ever anticipated," said Jennifer Thompson, owner of J. Jordan on the Square. "It's been up in general over the last few months. Everyone said during an election year sales fall off but I'm not seeing that."
"That's what I'm trying to figure out," laughed Thompson, adding she had a slight change in her marketing strategy this year that emphasized store sales for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.
"It was amazing because I had a lot of people say, 'I didn't know you were open on Black Friday.' It's amazing to me that people don't have in their minds that small businesses are open on Black Friday."
She said Black Friday was busier than Saturday, but traffic still held its own. People who came out, she said, were destination shoppers for the most part, hoping to scoop up special offers on jeans she was selling.
"But within 30 minutes those were gone and the rest of the day was wonderful too and those were just people shopping," she said.
Dena Landers, owner of a cosmetic store on the square, reported strong sales on both days.
"We had the biggest open house we've ever had this year and we were busy both Friday and Saturday last weekend," she said, adding she's hopeful this weekend's Christmas parade will bring even more traffic to her store (She's reported Hello Kitty will be on hand to greet Friday through Sunday and ride a Christmas float Saturday). "We're selling a lot of scarves this year, and ornaments have been selling good, too."
Inc., a nationwide business publication, did a story on its web site about Small Business Saturday and, as luck would have it, illustrated that story with a photo (from the photo sharing web site Flickr) of the storefronts on the east side of the Shelbyville square.
Others said their hopes of having extra customers over the weekend were not met.
"If it had gotten any slower we'd be backing up," said Gary Simpson of Pope's, saying he was surprised by the light traffic. Pope's has been re-opened for about a year and a half (under new ownership) after shutting its doors nearly eight years ago. It originally opened in the 1940s.
"Saturdays are normally our busiest days," Simpson said.
One of Simpson's neighbors, Valerie LaCoss, also reported slower than normal traffic but said generally speaking business has been steady through out the week, especially Thursdays and Fridays.
"We were expecting to be busy but we really weren't," LaCoss said, adding she's excited and prepared for high volumes this weekend during the parade.
Across the Square, the owner of another new bakery said he's also pleased with his experience on the Square thus far.
"I'm selling 800 cupcakes a month," said Timothy Holton. "It's incredible."
Holton, who lives in Tullahoma, said he'd been doing specialty orders and cakes out of his home in Tullahoma and decided to move into his current location to accompany the Riverview Bistro, another new restaurant, when it opened. Holton found it puzzling that the bakery is doing very well while business at the bistro has been a little slow.
While reviews from weekend activity were mixed, most agree that the variety the Square offers is one of its best assets.
These days, shoppers will find clothing stores, jewelry, accessories, antiques, a few restaurants and other businesses filling most spaces on the Square.
"Friday was really good for us," said Kenzie Miller of the Pomegranate. "People come here for Vera Bradley and Pandora, but they also find unique things here and so it's hard to track what people are buying this year."
Judy Williams, one of several who rents booth space at Arts, Antiques & Collectibles, also reported decent traffic, which is made up of about half locals and half tourists.
However, there's room for improvement, many agreed.
Most merchants on the Square emphasized the importance of promoting the Square to draw in tourists to the historic downtown.
"The Square needs to be a destination -- I don't know how to make that happen, but that's what it needs," said Rebecca McCain, an employee at the Coffee Break, which has held its own on the Square for about a decade.
McCain said she thinks the Coffee Break has maintained a strong local customer base because of its cozy atmosphere.
Another loyal customer, local attorney John T. Bobo -- who was eating a salad at the restaurant yesterday -- said he favors the restaurant because of its menu.
A quick walk around the Square Monday seemed to reveal most people agree with Bobo and would like to see more of this type of food around town.
"Being from California, I would love to see a health bar with fresh juices and healthy sandwiches," said Janet Cavna, who was shopping at one of the Square's antique shops.
Cavna has lived near the Square for nine years and has been a supporter of the square. In addition to more options in the way of healthy dining, Cavna said their are other things that she feels could strengthen the square's vitality.
"Each shop owner does an exquisite job individually, but they need to come together," she said, explaining there are two groups who work to promote activities on the square.
Cavna suggested quality condos for seniors near the square could enhance business. She also said she'd like to see tourism companies add Shelbyville to their maps while passing through the region.
"That seems to be what it takes," she said.
Strong retail reputations fuel business in local town squares, in addition to well-organized festivals which draw in locals, said Holton, referring to nearby towns Tullahoma and Winchester who've succeeded with these types of things to keep its square thriving.
In recent years, many have suggested county offices move from the square to deal with overcrowding. Several merchants offered stated they hoped to see county offices remain on the square.
"Regions (building on the square) is going up for sale this weekend in an online auction and I hope the county scoops that up," Thompson said.
Williams also said she hoped county offices would remain, and said plenty of parking is available behind the square.
"It's no further than walking into a mall from a parking lot," she said. "People just have to get used to it."
Just up the road, other merchants reported strong reviews on what they're seeing so far this season.
"I'm hoping this is going to be the best holiday we've had in a while," said Billy Lowery of Lowery Jewelers. "October and November have been very good so I hope that's going to be indicative that we're going to have one of the best Christmases in a while."
Lowery's neighbor, Carolyn Matusek, who owns Carolyn's, another popular women's dress shop, said she's also optimistic about a strong shopping season.
"I have also felt like our customers have been very receptive to our selections, and that makes us very happy," Matusek said.