Shoppers flocked to Downtown Washington for Small Business Saturday, providing a boost to local merchants while also showcasing the city’s revitalized business district.
A dozen stores and restaurants participated in the event’s “Breakfast Crawl” in the morning, with delicious treats available for hungry customers, while dozens of other businesses offered special sales to entice holiday shoppers.
The annual event has grown over the years and rebounded after a one-year hiatus in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But businesses and local leaders appeared pleased with Saturday’s event and the overall direction that Downtown Washington is heading.
“I think it shows the community is willing to come together, eager to come together for a common cause,” said Shana Brown, who serves as the Main Street Manager for the Washington Business District Authority. “Once you get people connected, things kinda waterfall from there.”
In addition to brick-and-mortar businesses that were open Saturday, numerous vendors were stationed inside at Nineteenth North – the banquet hall on North Main Street – with live music filling the room and food and drinks being served inside. In addition, many other crafters were selling their goods inside the Ignite Business Incubator on East Chestnut Street for the second year in a row.
That’s where Jessica Garda was for last year’s Small Business Saturday after starting her new business, The Cheerful Balloon, with the incubator’s help. Her party supply shop specializing in decorative balloons grew so much that she expanded to a storefront on North Main Street this summer, so Saturday’s event allowed her to introduce her business to many new customers.
“You never really know what to expect,” Garda said. “I’ve had a number of people (say) this is the first chance they’ve had to come in and find out what we’re all about.”
The North Franklin Township resident said many people have seen Cheerful’s social media posts or visited her online store, so having people visit her shop is a great boost for her burgeoning business. She even installed a “selfie area” for people to take photographs next to her life-sized balloon creations and post them on social media.
“Taking advantage of these events is super important,” Garda said. “We’re getting there. We’re getting to the point that downtown (Washington) is going to be a destination. There’s a lot going on, and people are excited about this.”
Clarissa Stark was one of those shoppers excited to see how her hometown’s business district has improved since her childhood. The 2004 Wash High grad now lives in Richmond, Va., with her husband, Colin, so she returned home this weekend to visit her family in East Washington for Thanksgiving and went shopping with a childhood friend at Small Business Saturday.
“It’s amazing to see this. Growing up, I never thought I would see Main Street come back,” Stark said. “It’s wild. It’s great.”
She usually returns home a couple of times a year, so she’s seen noticeable changes every time she comes back.
“This absolutely is for the better,” Stark said.
That’s what Brown wants to hear as Main Street Manager while she continues working with city leaders and business owners to entice more local storefronts and restaurants to set up shop in Washington.
“People are so eager to see Downtown Washington succeed,” Brown said.