Marion stores stress importance of shopping small this holiday season

Emilee Geist

A Santa shortage may mean he’s not coming to town before Christmas A nationwide Santa shortage could mean he won’t be at shopping centers or holiday parties. Staff Video, USA TODAY Marley Mae Market & Paperie’s shelves are stocked with an assortment of eclectic items, ranging from magnets to stickers […]

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Marley Mae Market & Paperie’s shelves are stocked with an assortment of eclectic items, ranging from magnets to stickers to mugs and everything in between. Some of the merchandise references pop culture icons and TV shows like “Golden Girls” and “Friends,” while other items, like alligator stickers and Ocala shirts, celebrate Florida heritage. 

“My favorite thing is when people come and look around and you hear them laughing to themselves. I love that so much,” said owner Jennifer Arvanitis, who calls Marley Mae trendy, fun and “not a traditional gift shop.” 

Arvanitis also has her own handmade wooden Christmas signs, ornaments and custom cards in stock in preparation for holiday shopping and Small Business Saturday. 

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Marley Mae, located at 16 S. Magnolia Ave., Ocala, is just one of many local businesses in downtown Ocala and across Marion County continuing to encourage residents to shop small this season and throughout the year. 

One in four plan to shop at local stores

“Most of our downtown businesses are locally owned and operated by our neighbors. Shopping small creates a big impact for our whole community,” Ocala Main Street Executive Director Jessica Fieldhouse wrote in an email. 

Small Business Saturday, which occurs on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, is a push to support local businesses in response to the Black Friday deals offered by bigger companies. 

According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated $843.3 billion to $859 billion will be spent nationwide this holiday season, breaking previous records. The average consumer will spend $998 between gifts, food, decorations, cards and other items. 

Though 57% of shoppers plan to purchase items online and 47% will visit department stores, 24% are expected to shop at local retail stores and small businesses as well. 

This year, Small Business Saturday falls on Nov. 27, and Ocala Main Street is holding an event where shoppers receive stamps on a downtown passport when they visit participating shops and restaurants. Completed passports can be turned in for a chance to win raffle items donated by local businesses. 

Fieldhouse said that supporting small businesses is “vital to creating a thriving and growing historic district,” which is at the core of the organization’s mission to “support the economic vitality of downtown Ocala.” 

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“Shop Small Saturday is always our biggest day of the entire year,” Arvanitis, who has owned Marley Mae for six years, said. “We do swag bags for the first 30 in line, and we usually have people lined up several hours beforehand, and it’s definitely just our biggest income day of the year.” 

2020 was the store’s biggest year ever compared to a slower year so far in 2021. 

“It could be because last year there was such a push to make sure that small businesses survived the pandemic,” Arvanitis said. “Downtown has been a lot slower than it should be for November. I think there needs to be another push for (small businesses), especially for the holidays.” 

Across Ocala at 3337 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Trish Galinat owns Uniquely Blended, which offers a mix of old and new gifts and décor. 

The store carries gifts and decor made by several small U.S. companies, including handmade soaps, coasters, birdhouses, costume jewelry, holiday decorations and even hot sauces. 

Uniquely Blended opened in September 2019, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, which made for a challenging start to Galinat’s business. 

“I was just super determined to keep going, and I love the little shopping center that I chose,” Galinat said of Chelsea Square. “It’s very eclectic. There’s a lot of cute little businesses in here, a lot of people like me who have decided to keep fighting and try and keep the doors open.” 

This season will be her first real taste of the holidays after being a brand-new business in 2019 and with coronavirus limitations in 2020. 

Push to shop small keeps businesses alive

Like Arvanitis, Galinat seeks out smaller businesses to support by selling their goods, the same way she hopes Marion County shoppers will support local shops this holiday season. 

“They have absolutely no idea how much they do for us,” she said. “Every person who walks in our door, unlike any of the large places, matters, like everybody matters to us. That one person who comes here and spends 50 bucks, they have no idea what a difference it makes to somebody like me.” 

Whereas shoppers’ money is “another drop in the ocean” to large companies, “every dollar spent in a small business makes a difference,” Galinat said.

Arvanitis also noted another movement called Pink Friday that encourages people to shop small first, on the Friday before Thanksgiving instead of after. 

Not only does the message apply to gifts but also dining local and buying holiday cards, for example, which Arvanitis creates and encourages shoppers to purchase locally rather than online. 

“Make sure to shop local so your local stores will still be around next year,” she said. 

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at [email protected]

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