Downtown Oxford goes for that ‘welcome home’ feeling
BY RUTH FREEMAN
OU News Bureau
Roxy, a cheerful white dog about the size of a large cat, isn’t there every day. Her owner, Tom Jones, said that sometimes kids ask where she is when they visit his toy store, Funky Monkey Toys, in Oxford.
Being greeted by the Chihuahua/Terrier mix is just one difference between shopping at small, independently owned businesses and big box stores.
Personal attention is another.
“It’s fun helping them (the customer) find the exact, almost personalized gift,” he said.
He noted that customers couldn’t buy everything they see at his store from a big box store. Some manufacturers make toys to sell only at small retailers such as Funky Monkey Toys.
Jones said that business has been “really, really, really good.”
For the second annual Small Business Saturday, the weekend after Thanksgiving, American Express encouraged shoppers to patronize small businesses in their communities instead of chains or big box stores.
Jones said that sales that day broke records for his store. Many customers mentioned they were there to support small businesses.
Holly Bills, executive director of the Oxford Chamber of Commerce was pleased to see businesses in downtown Oxford, at the northern edge of Oakland County, doing well.
“Every organization in Oxford benefits from that business being here,” she said. “I’ve seen growth. I’ve seen positive things happening.”
Bills said that money spent in the small, locally owned businesses downtown stays in Oxford. Storeowners pay taxes and spend money in the community. She added that some small business owners help sponsor local causes or events.
Bills also talked about the personal service that small businesses can give customers.
“You want to go in there and have that attention,” she said.
The Downtown Development Authority is bordered on the north by the Polly Ann Trail bridge arching above Washington Street, or M-24. To the south is The Oxford Market Place Shopping Center, a strip mall.
About 1,000 residents live downtown, which is one mile long. About 33,000 more live around it.
For several blocks, it looks like the downtown area in many small towns from another time: densely built, lots of brick and a radial clock on the second floor of a building at the corner of Burdick and Washington Streets.
Madonna Van Fossen, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, noted that there is a multiscreen cinema, as well as Centennial Park, which hosts community events such as summer concerts on Thursday nights.
“There’s a ‘welcome home’ feeling when you come downtown,” she said.
She added that there was plenty of parking in front of shops and restaurants on Washington Street, and in lots behind the stores. From September 2008 to September 2010, the DDA spent $1 million on parking.
Together with business owners, they spent another $2 million on downtown building facades, for new doors, signage and awnings.
Van Fossen said a lot of property owners took advantage of grants, and that vacancy is “pretty low.”
“There’s a lot of hope in Oxford,” she said.
Just down the street, Sue Gabriel has owned Covered Wagon Saddlery, a horse-riding apparel and equipment store, for 38 years. She said she has noticed sales were up this year.
“The area has really grown,” she added.
During rush hour, traffic can move at a crawl through town, inching its way north through three traffic lights in the older part of town.
Kim Thiede, who has worked at Covered Wagon Saddlery for about a year and a half, said she sometimes hears from customers that they are there to support local businesses instead of large retailers.
She added that the store was busy on Small Business Saturday.
Next door, Great Lakes Mercantile was not open during Thanksgiving weekend, because its owners were out of town. Ron and Dora Rolando have sold Michigan products at their store for 10 years.
Their daughter, Dawn, said she thinks business is up this year. She attributes some of the change to the Pure Michigan tourism campaigns featuring Tim Allen’s voice narrating images of the state.
“Advertising for Michigan has helped,” she said. “Campaigning really did help.”
The most popular items for sale at Great Lakes Mercantile are bottles of wine produced in the state and Pewabic pottery made in Detroit.
Across the street from Funky Monkey Toys, Cortney Wojcik, store manager of the Achatz Handmade Pie Co., said that the Michigan-based pie company used as many local ingredients as possible.
Pies are made in Armada with fruit, flour, sugar and milk from Michigan farms. The Oxford store, one of eight in southeastern Michigan, gets pie deliveries every day.
She, too, said that the store had been busy before the holiday.
“We did very well,” she said. “Better than last year.”Tweet
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