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Business of being local

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | DECEMBER 01, 2014 5:00 AM

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Both local and national pushes for businesses resulted in a busy downtown Iowa City on Nov. 29.

“At all four of my restaurants, it was probably one of our better days of the month getting a lot of traffic and that,” said George Etre, the president of the Downtown District and owner of Takanami, 219 Iowa Ave., Formosa, 221 E. College St., Iowa Chop House, 223 E. Washington St., and Givanni’s, 109 E. College St.

In particular, business was boosted by the fifth-annual Small Business Saturday, an effort started by American Express in 2010 to stir interest in local businesses the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The day is sandwiched between Black Friday, a discount frenzy focused more on chain and big-box stores, and Cyber Monday, an effort to boost online sales.

Nancy Bird, the Downtown District executive director, said interest in the day has risen over the past few years.

“When you shop local, that investment stays local,” she said. “I think people enjoy getting the customer service that they have downtown.”

Bird said downtown establishments offer a wider variety of gift options for community members.

“More and more, it seems like finding gifts that are special and unique is becoming more challenging,” she said. “When you come downtown, you’ll find something that’s maybe a little bit special, which makes the gift more thoughtful.”

Small Business Saturday coincided with several other efforts by the Downtown District to boost foot traffic, including horse-drawn sleigh rides and a district-wide elf scavenger hunt as part of Celebrate the Season in Downtown Iowa City.

“There were a lot of people who put a lot of time into marketing and promotion and getting their stores ready with great inventory and just preparing for the holiday rush,” Bird said.

Etre said traffic was up all around downtown.

“I talked to a few other retail places, and I heard it was a good day for them, too, so I think there was a lot of traffic downtown with Small Business Saturday and the holiday season and a lot of stuff going on downtown,” he said.

Bird said the scavenger hunt was especially successful.

“There were a lot of people in the stores and some of the stores had a hard time keeping up with all of the cards, which were going quick as people were looking for the elves on the shelves,” she said.

Small Business Saturday was promoted all the way to the United States government.

“America's small-business owners are on the frontlines when it comes to creating new jobs and opportunities,” President Obama said in a statement. “These visionary entrepreneurs are the men and women who take a chance on a dream and turn an idea into a new industry, helping provide the jobs, products, and services that enrich our lives, shape our communities, and move our economy forward.”


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