By James Niedzinski
---- — The term “Black Friday” may not have meant much traditionally to the small, local businesses in Cape Ann’s towns, but that’s changing this holiday season.
While brand name department stores and online shopping may dominate the shopping list for some residents, many people still shop and eat locally during the holidays, local merchants say.
That has spurred some two dozen stores in downtown Gloucester to open at 6 a.m. Friday for Black Friday, and it’s encouraged others — like the Sears Hometown Store on Gloucester’s Eastern Avenue — to open as early as 12:30 a.m. Friday.
But while stores in Cape Ann’s towns aren’t getting that quick a jump, business owners in Rockport, Essex and Manchester say they’re confident for a good holiday shopping season, and believe they have an important niche for shoppers in the face of the retail rush.
”We get all of the people who are looking for something special, something out of the ordinary,” said Robert Coviello, owner of Coviello and Main Street Antiques in Essex and the head of the Essex Merchants Group.
Coviello said this is the prime time for local businesses to flourish. When people return to the Cape Ann area to visit their friends and family, he said, it is a great chance to indulge in the local flavor.
Coviello said he’s kept an eye on the cycles of shoppers and family throughout the years, like a tide rolling in and out.
”Thursday, we will get the early birds who came the day before to get shopping done,” he said. “Then Friday, the family members who stayed a day after will be around the towns as well.”
Christian Del Rosario, co-owner of a local surf shop, Surfari in Manchester, said he was giving in to the black Friday tradition.
“We are putting out some stuff we wouldn’t usually have, with a lot of it on sale,” he said.
While a surf shop may not be subjected to threats such as Wal-Mart or other big retailers, shopping online has been a bit of an issue at Surfari. Del Rosario said the best way to fight back is with knowledge.
“If you buy online from a surf shop in California, they cannot tell you what it’s like to surf in cold water out here,” he said.
Being able to try on equipment and ask questions about surfing in general is another big part of in store appeal, Del Rosario said.
There is one market in particular that has been hurt by both online and brick-and-mortar competitors; the local bookstore.
Mary White, who works at Toad Hall Bookstore in Rockport, said she’s thrilled that more people are reading, thanks in part to Amazon’s Kindle and the Nook by Barnes and Noble, but they are also posing stiff competitionfor local stores.
“Since we are so small, it’s hard for us to ramp up and fight back against electronic books or big-box stores,” she admitted.
However, employees of the nonprofit bookstore offer unparrellel customer service, said White, noting that Toad Hall sells postcards and artwork by local artists, and that the store has always served as an outlet for local authors to get their books to the masses.
Toad Hall also sells tickets to events around Cape Ann and community happenings. The bookstore has been around for 40 years, and White added that the store’s employees are very sociable, talking about everything from the latest best sellers to politics and with a knack for being able to recomend the right book for anyone.
“Within a few minutes, we know what book to put in your hand,” she said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.