Downtown Vernon was dark while malls thrived | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Downtown Vernon was dark while malls thrived

Shoppers peruse the aisles of the Bay at Village Green Mall.
December 26, 2012 - 6:23 PM

Shoppers flocked to Vernon's big box stores this Boxing Day, leaving the downtown area empty. Shop fronts on Vernon's 30th Avenue advertised boxing week blow out sales, yet few stores were actually open for the big day. It's hard to say which happened first: stores locking up for Boxing Day, or shoppers failing to come to the downtown area. Whatever the case, one of 30th Avenue's long-time shop owners stayed open today for the first, and last, time today.

Sheila Finch, who owns La Creme Clothing Co. Ltd, was one of the few downtown stores open today. After seventeen and a half years, she's decided to retire, and will close up her shop sometime in the new year. Staying open for Boxing Day was one way for her to move the last of her stock.

"If I wasn't closing, I wouldn't be open today," Finch says.

She says Boxing Week has morphed into the week before, not after Christmas, and that the lead up makes Boxing Day somewhat irrelevant. She says one of the perks of owning her own shop has been the choice to close on Boxing Day, something big box stores don't get the option of.

"It's the independence of the downtown shops," Finch says of the darkly lit businesses on Vernon's Main Street.

Many shops in the area have expressed concern over the health of Vernon's downtown, and some have said that it's dying. Turnover of businesses has always been a fact of downtown Vernon, but some owners say the departures are increasing in frequency. The cause of the exodus has been identified by numerous shopkeepers as poor business.

"No one comes here anymore," said one store owner. "They all go to the mall instead."

Finch is a passionate shop owner, and  takes a more optimistic view.

"I'm adamant that it's a wonderful downtown and a wonderful place to operate a business. I wouldn't have been anywhere else in my seventeen years."

But the fact remains: running a profitable business downtown is a challenge in the face of shopping malls and box stores, especially around the holidays.

While Finch's clothing store had a few customers trying on marked down items, Village Green Mall was congested with throngs of people taking advantage of sales, using gift cards, and sometimes doing both.

Brayden McMamanan, age 10, wasted little time redeeming the EB Games gift card he got for Christmas.

"I got Mario, Metal of Honour 2, and Lego Harry Potter," McMamanan says.

McMamanan and his dad agree that the Boxing Day sales helped make the gift card go a long way, and even left a little on it for a future game.

At the other end of the mall, people were lining up to get their favourite calendars at Calendar Club.

"One guy comes back every year for a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog calendar," Charleen Powell, the store manager says.

She says the two most popular calendars are the Fantasy calendar and the Mom's Ultimate Family Fridge Calendar.

"Every year, we sell hundreds of those ones," Powell says.

Christine Hatfield reached for a Mum's calendar as if on cue.

"I get it every year," she says. "I like the big size."

Calendar Club, which normally operates just as a kiosk over the holidays, was given a bit more mall real estate this year with the closing of Zellers.

"It's been an awesome year," Powell says. With more space, the store ordered a greater range of products, and Powell says toy sales were through the roof.

"Retro toys were really popular," Powell says. "Things like phones on strings and wind up TVs."

"Grandparents came in and said, 'This is what I had when I was a kid,' and they want to get it for their grandkids."

Boxing Day shopping in Vernon revealed a clash between the new and the old, the independent and the conglomerate. Loyal customers were a common thread, from a shopper buying her last dress at La Creme Clothing, to Christine Hatfield purchasing her favourite calendar at Village Green Mall.

—Charlotte Helston

News from © iNFOnews, 2012

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