Tis the season: Valley Courtyard shop owners talk holiday shopping

By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer

MATT SCHICKLING / WIRE PHOTO Shopsin the Valley Courtyard at 2535 Huntingdon Pike in Huntingdon Valley will celebrate Small Business Saturday on Nov. 29. The independently-owned shops will offer special discounts and promotions.html-charsetutf-8

Small business doesn’t have to mean small-time holiday sales.

According to Deloitte’s 2014 annual holiday survey released on Nov. 10, American consumers will spend more cash this year than last, and more than half will shop without much of a budget.

Deloitte LLP is an international financial service and auditing company, which has surveyed holiday consumers for 29 shopping seasons.

While online shopping and discount department stores attract most of the consumer sales, more shoppers are expected to look locally this year. The survey results say that 68 percent of consumers intend to shop locally, with 35 percent of their total spending going to local businesses.

This is good news for shop owners in the Valley Courtyard at 2535 Huntingdon Pike in Huntingdon Valley. For these shops and restaurants, simply existing might not be enough — they have to reach out to draw people in.

“This is BYOP: Bring Your Own People,” said Adriano Ciocca, owner of Simpatico!, an Italian BYOB located in the courtyard. “I have to hold my own.”

Though he’s not involved in holiday retail, he does sell gift cards, and Ciocca recognizes the challenges facing the shops surrounding Simpatico!.

“At the end of the day, you can’t compete with Bloomingdale’s,” he said.

But they can offer something the giants cannot, like certain specialty items.

That’s the whole idea surrounding Olive Lucy, which offers a large selection of ultra-premium, flavor-infused olive oil and vinegars. All are bottled in-store and available for tasting before purchase.

Olive Lucy was opened last year by owner Harold Kaytes before the holiday season and did well, but he’s expecting to bring more shoppers in this year with themed packages starting at $10.95. One of the higher-end packages includes a one-hour massage at Be Well With Ease, located just a few storefronts over.

“People didn’t know we existed when we opened, and we’re very optimistic for this season,” he said.

While many stores depend on Black Friday sales to boost holiday revenue, some of these shops are offering specials the following day, for Small Business Saturday.

To draw people toward local shopping that day, Olive Lucy is offering 10 percent off all items, RejuvinEssence Day Spa is taking 10 percent from all retail items and Lilli Cole, a women’s boutique, is knocking 10 percent off all items, if customers like the store’s Facebook page beforehand.

Rose Nihill, owner of Lilli Cole, relies on Facebook posts of the store’s always-changing offerings to get the word out to potential customers. Saturdays, she said, are already the busiest days.

“Women watch all week on Facebook and come in on the weekend,” Nihill said. “Already, our numbers have jumped from last year.”

As the holidays near, those women will be gift shopping for others as well.

According to the Deloitte survey, people prefer to give clothing and gift cards, but want to receive gift cards and cash.

For some of these stores, gift cards are the go-to purchases. RejuvinEssence, for example, offers all different types of services, so it’s best to let the gift-receiver decide. And, they do have holiday packages, like the “sugar and spice” special, which includes both a facial and massage, using special oils for detox.

For those pesky New Year’s resolutions, owner Patti Darragh does hypnotherapy, which “starts with meditation and works into the art of suggestion,” she said. She said it can be helpful for breaking or making habits, like quitting smoking or trying to eat healthier.

A lot of people come in Jan. 2, but Darragh suggests coming in before to remain healthy through the holiday temptations.

The business continues mostly through word of mouth, Darragh said.

“People send their friends, and their friends send their friends,” she said.

A similar construction works for Rick Richeal, owner of Shutter Buddies, a photography studio in the Valley Courtyard.

“It takes bad experiences to get people to come here,” he said, alluding to some comments from his customers about other studios.

Shutter Buddies offers private photo sessiojns with varying backgrounds and props, and “picture parties” geared toward children, where they can pose with items from the prop closet, which is stuffed with all kinds of colorful items.

People come in to do their holiday greeting cards, family photos, portraits or anything else, but Richeal, too, relies on both Facebook and word of mouth to get his business going.

“No one accidentally walks down Huntingdon Pike,” he said. “This is destination shopping.”

For the holidays, Richeal said much of his sales come from gift card purchases and themed portraits. As for parties, word spreads via parents, and it’s been spreading fast. Richeal booked more parties this November than he has in any other month.

But what’s good for one business is good for the others. With more foot traffic in the Valley Courtyard, more people might notice some of the other shops.

“Working together ties them together,” Jessica Ranieri, a representative from the Valley Courtyard, said. “A lot of the people they’re sending to the other businesses are clients they’ve had for years.”