Make holiday shopping a local adventure

Don’t dread holiday shopping this year. Make it an adventure by seeing what you can find from handcrafted to carefully curated designer merchandise at locally owned businesses.

With gifts ranging in cost from 10 cents to more than $12,000, local shops have it all.

Why not start out at the historic Harrison Brothers Hardware in downtown Huntsville? It’s the city’s oldest operating business, since 1897.  If you’ve never been there, this time of year the brightly colored holiday decorations in the storefront windows will draw you inside just to look around. And if it’s been a while since you’ve visited the store, take the time to go.

Why?

A trip to Harrison Brothers is about more than just shopping. It’s an experience. The store is also a museum, capturing an important piece of history. You won’t find any self-service kiosk here. They still use a 1907 National Cash Register to ring up sales if you find something you want.

If you buy something, it will be made in the USA with many products handcrafted by Huntsville area or North Alabama residents.  The most popular item sold in the store are 10-cent marbles.

“People buy them by the hundreds,” says Fran McFall, who has volunteered and worked at the store for eight years. She also points out larger, hand blown marbles, which sell for $3.75 a piece.

The first table you come to upon entering is filled with “Gifts Made Locally.”

There and throughout the store you’ll find old-fashioned candy and treats like Hammond’s chocolate bars, including a popular Pigs N’ Taters chocolate bar with bacon flavored bits and potato chips.

There are angel ornaments made of cotton, specialty soy candles, paintings by local artists and pottery, greeting cards, and books by local authors, classic toys – even an astronaut suit. There’s jewelry, knitting gift sets, dog food bowls, novelty socks, lotions and soaps, a large selection of gourmet foods and so much more.

The nonprofit Historic Huntsville Foundation keeps the store open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Sales support the store’s operation, with employees and volunteers, as well as other community events.

After you’ve perused Harrison Brothers, you’re bound to be ready to seek out what else local shop owners have to offer for holiday gift giving. Here’s a small sampling of what’s available in the area.

Greene Street Market

Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Just a short walk from the downtown square, on the same side of the street, you’ll find the Greene Street Market at Nativity, a shop that offers limited produce and farm fresh eggs. You’ll also find a variety of gifts, mostly from local artists and crafters at a variety of prices.

Marilyn Evans, the shop manager, says a sidewalk holiday market will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16 with locally grown produce, farm fresh foods, fresh baked goods, and offerings by local artisans.

Clinton Row

Jefferson Street and Clinton Avenue, hours vary

From the historic to the new and trendy, a few streets away one of the area’s most unique shopping areas awaits at Clinton Row.  This is the place where ground level storage units have been turned into a downtown shopping destination.

Dee Dee Crawford, manager of the Downtown Storage Huntsville, says you can spend anywhere between  $10 and $500 or more at one of the featured shops like The Little Green Store, Clinton Row Gifts, Maxwell Music, the Carole Foray Art studio, In Bloom gift shop, SassyFrazz Boutique, Clachic Boutique and 81 Home Gifts and Glam.

At the shops you’ll find photographs, frames, candles, personalized monogramming, old and new music, unique and trendy clothes, jewelry, handbags, cotton towels with fun sayings and much more.

“There are many nice and fun gifts to be found here,” Crawford says.

Railroad Station Antiques, Gifts & More

315 N. Jefferson St., Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m.

A few blocks away from Clinton Row you’ll find another treasure trove.

From $1 to $12,000, Railroad Station has an eclectic mix of old, vintage and new.

“We have everything from fashion accessories to fine antique furniture,” says Suzanne Conway. “It’s really an emporium, unlike any other shop in our area. Our historic building and diverse merchandise make us a destination shop unlike any other.”

You’ll find gifts for everyone from kids to seniors. Vintage toys, fabulous jewelry, furs, candles, a book shop, and even local honey and cheese straws from the Shoals.

“With 24,000 square feet and a limited word count, I can only touch the surface of what we have!”

Lewter’s Hardware

222 Washington Street, Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 7:30 a.m. to noon.

Another downtown fixture for 90 years, Lewter’s is a true hardware store with hand and power tools and any manner of home building or repair supplies.

This time of year, you will find a variety of Flexible Flyer red wagons and other vintage toys like cap guns, model airplanes and whirly gigs. Other gift ideas for this time of year include the collection of Lodge cast iron skillets.

Shoe Fly

974 Airport Road, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

8213 U.S. 72, Madison, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

What started 11 years ago primarily as an overstock shoe store has transitioned into two area trendy clothing boutiques for teens to women in their 70s.

“Many think we’re just for high school and college age and while we do sell a lot to that age group, we have customers of all ages,” says owner Amy Word. “Our idea is to have trendy clothes at a reasonable price so 90 percent of what we offer is $49 or less.”

The stores get new shipments every week so the inventory is always fresh.

“We carry a lot of unique pieces, and sometimes you’ll find the same looks here that you’ll find in larger department stores, at lower pricing,” Word says. “I know people are spending more time shopping online but there is something to be said about the experience of going into a store and trying something on, whether it’s a mother and daughter or friends.”

Mint Julep Market

7540 S. Memorial Parkway (next to Rosie’s Cantina), Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you have a person on your gift list who has everything or is hard to buy for, then Hillary Dunham says she’ll help you find the perfect present at Mint Julep Market.

“We have become the place to go to for something different. We have everything from paint supplies and classes, local artists who create pieces special for our shop, custom-made pottery from local and Alabama potters, clothing, luggage, custom embroidery, candles, jewelry, just all kinds of things,” Dunham says. “And if you find something we have in pink and you need it in another color, we’ll find it for you.”

Dunham says keeping collections easy to browse and a wide variety keeps customers coming back.

Topiary Tree 

1801 University Drive, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through Dec. 22.

This little shop is packed with gift ideas. Their best selling item this season is the PJ Harlow Pajamas. There are more than 15 styles in eight colors. The shop is known for its embossed graphics stationary, raised ink and embossed stationary, which is made in house.

You’ll also find everyday and holiday collections of handmade pottery from Etta, Miss. With many serving pieces to choose from, they are dishwasher, microwave and oven safe. The store also features Earthborn pottery from Birmingham, jewelry at every price point, fur capes and jackets, leather goods for men and luxurious lotions and soaps for women.

 

 

Something Delicious is Cooking at Stovehouse

 

In case you haven’t noticed, there is something moving around over at the century-old Martin Stove Factory, and we are sure it is not the ghosts of Charles and W.H. Martin, transitioning wood-burning stoves into electric ranges and cast-iron skillets.

However, there is definitely something cooking in the old stove plant at 3414 Governors Drive in west Huntsville that promises to satisfy that itch you often get – you know, the one where you are craving something out of the ordinary to eat and a unique atmosphere in which to enjoy it?

Danny and Patti Yancey purchased the old Martin Brother’s stove plant facility in 2016 to preserve its rich history. Danny is a Huntsville history buff and 30-year veteran of construction and finance. Together with Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate Group, they are developing the 200,000 square foot building situated on a 10-acre property into a thriving large-scale food, office, events, and entertainment complex surrounding a hub of eclectic cuisine that showcases the talents of local restaurateurs and chefs.

“Stovehouse will blur the line between modern and historical, work and play, and small-town culture and high-tech urban energy,” said Yancey. “The food garden is the heart of Stovehouse. It’s where the city can mingle, enjoy live music, play games, and experience some of the best food Huntsville has to offer.”

Several local restaurateurs and chefs will be opening unique dining concepts in the food garden, beginning with Kamado Ramen, Oh Crêpe, Pourhouse, and Mazzara’s Italian Kitchen.

Kamado Ramen and Oh Crêpe are Japanese-inspired eateries, both members of Huntsville and Madison’s I Love Sushi restaurant team.

 

Coincidentally, Kamado means “stove” in Japanese and they will feature several bowl options that include various noodles, sauces, vegetables and meats. All sauces will be made in-house and patrons can enjoy dishes that showcase pork belly, chicken breast, kimchi, deep fried pork, and Japanese soft-boiled eggs.

General manager Chao Fang said, “Kamado will be hyper-focused on creating the highest quality ramen dishes in the area. A lot goes into creating exceptional ramen and our goal is to be the place everyone immediately thinks of when someone mentions ramen in Huntsville.”

Jim Xue, partner at Kamado Ramen and Oh Crêpe, said, “Huntsville is very progressive when it comes to accepting new and exciting restaurants to the area. When it came to selecting a site, Stovehouse fit our needs on every level. We are very excited to be a part of it.”

Oh Crêpe will offer a fun spin on traditional crêpes using Japanese flavors and ingredients like banana, green tea ice cream and chocolate, or savory selections like lobster, chicken and spinach. The crêperie will also offer Taiwanese-style shaved ice cream along with several toppings.

General manager Yituan Wang said, “You can completely change the look and taste of crêpes depending on what flour you use. Oh Crêpe will use Japanese rice flour, and pay special attention to the presentation. We can’t wait for people to see how beautiful our crêpes look and discover how wonderful they taste.”

The creators of Church Street Wine Shoppe and Purveyor have committed to opening Pourhouse, an eclectic upscale bar; and Mazzara’s Italian Kitchen at the Stovehouse Food Garden next year as well.

“We like to think that if Purveyor had a little sister, Pourhouse would be in her place,” said Stephanie Kennedy-Mell, the pub’s co-owner and creator. “Pourhouse will be a bohemian, laid-back, upscale and ‘comfortably swanky’ bar with unique touches not yet seen in Huntsville. Customers can grab a drink and enjoy the rooftop deck or one of our heated outdoor patios, complete with fireplace. It will be at the center of everything at Stovehouse.”

Pourhouse will serve a wide selection of wines; domestic, international and local craft beers; spirits; and handcrafted cocktails. Although no food will be served at the bar, guests are welcome to bring food from the eateries over to the Pourhouse area and enjoy their meal with their favorite Pourhouse selection.

Serving fresh, made-in-house pasta, sauces, and other traditional Italian fare, Mazzara’s Italian Kitchen will feature primarily Mazzara family recipes. They have been passed down for generations to owner Stephanie Kennedy-Mell, from her great-grandparents, Stefano and Carmela Mazzara, who were Italian cooks from Sicily.

“Mazzara is my family name and our menu may feature favorites like chicken parmigiana and lasagna as staples, but my great-grandmother’s eggplant rollatini will be something everyone will be watching for,” she said. “Service and quality are our trademarks at the Church Street Family and this will be fast, casual service with the high-quality food our customers have come to expect from us.”

Managed by Chef Rene Boyzo of Purveyor, Mazzara’s will also feature Guistino’s Gelato, a made-from-scratch gelateria created by Huntsville local, Justin Rosoff.

Rosoff took classes in Bologna, Italy, to craft artisanal hard and soft-serve gelato, pastries, and gelato pops. All gelato will be made in small batches on premise, so guests can watch Justin create the desserts in person. Patrons can also enjoy seasonal sorbets, biscotti, rainbow cookies, almond cookies and Italian coffee. Dairy- and gluten-free options will be available.

All four eateries are scheduled to open in March 2019.

“Stovehouse is the perfect backdrop for these new concepts from Matt and Stephanie,” said Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate Principal Wesley Crunkleton. “The Food Garden will allow guests to experience delicious authentic food from different destinations around the world, and the Church Street team has a proven track record of success when it comes to creating concepts that Huntsville embraces.”

Local small businesses go global for defense sales

The theater at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Davidson Center was filled with small, locally owned defense contracting firms eager to learn more about foreign military sales.

They were not disappointed as The North Alabama International Trade Association (NAITA) presented its industry networking event, “FMS Across the Globe.”

The keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Drushal, commanding general of USASAC, discussed the goals for shortening the time between Letters of Request and Letters of Acceptance, as well as the need to combat the perception that FMS is a detriment for Army readiness.

“Our international partners are relying on us to get it right, there are other choices out there; we need to collaborate to increase speed of execution,” Drushal said.

Drushal also emphasized the Total Package Approach and it is a win-win for the army as well as FMS partners. As a component of the “4 Ts”: Trust, Transparency, Teamwork, and Total Package Approach, TPA includes spare parts, equipment maintenance, training, documentation and non-standard equipment.

The first panel discussion, “FMS Around the Globe,” featured a trio of USASAC regional directors: Cols. Jason Crowe, Jose Valentin, and Michael Morton.

The discussion focused on eliminating the competition by providing expert training, maintaining a presence, and providing high-quality American equipment. The panel also touched on the importance of securing prime FMS market, responsiveness, unique regional requirements, and how industry can assist by providing compatible spare parts and training support.

Timothy Schimpp, security assistant specialist for the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Defense Exports & Cooperation, presented the Export Control Update. Heiscussed Technology, Security, Foreign Disclosure, the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy Implementation Plan, and how export control reform is working to create “Higher Fences around Fewer Things,” while lowering “fences” for items, such as spare parts.

The second panel session, “Collaboration to Meet FMS Demand,” was Nancy Small, director of Small Business Programs for the Army Materiel Command. Panelists were Larry Lewis, president of Project XYZ, and Rob Willis, director of Aviation & International Programs for Integration Innovation Inc. (i3). They discussed how businesses must know their customers and what the business’s value proposition means to the customer, the importance of understanding the realities of cultural expectations, differences, and how business is conducted in other countries.

For more information on upcoming NAITA events, visit www.naita.org.

Black Patch Distillery Offers a Special Salute to the Military

Master distiller Gary Cooper developed a fascination for the distilling process during his days in Houston, working as a polymer chemist. (Photo by Steve Babin)

 

It takes a special kind of operation to be a successful distillery.

Or, in the case of Leslie Hinchman, it takes special ops.                     

Hinchman, who served with the Army’s special ops forces, is the CEO and president of Black Patch Distillery. The Black Patch recognizes those who have served – Special Ops uniforms do not display rank or personal identifiers, only two patches: the American flag and a black patch, which, on its underside provides key identification.

In 2008, after being severely injured in a night raid, Hinchman’s black patch was his sole means of identification.

Black Patch Distillery is a family-owned business endeavor: Clayton’s wife, Leslie, is company president; his sister, Kimberly Mendez is the general manager; and Clayton’s stepfather, Gary Cooper is the master distiller.

Cooper developed a fascination for the distilling process during his days in Houston, Texas, working as a polymer chemist. First, he began with brewing beer, then went on to perfect the art of distilling spirits.

Simply put: “I wanted to make something good, something that I’d like to drink.”

Black Patch has four spirits on the market. 

“The bourbon and rye whiskeys are very mellow. We use a two-year, accelerated aging process,” Cooper said. “These spirits start out in 53-gallon barrels, then are transferred into smaller, 10-gallon barrels.”

Black Patch has four spirits on the market. (Photo by Steve Babin)

There’s also the 100 percent blue agave, which is much smoother than your average Mexican tequila.

However, the best seller is Heat, a cinnamon-infused whiskey.

After perfecting his recipe for cinnamon candy, Cooper developed a process where the candy easily dissolves into the whiskey, providing a clear and spicy finish.

Although distribution beyond the distillery is still somewhat limited, both the bourbon and blue agave are carried in ABC stores.

The Black Patch logo design is significant. A warfighter helmet represents hardworking people who help shape the community—such as the military and first responders. Spears cross in the front to signify the fight against new challenges and obstacles.

At the bottom, is “08”, the year Hinchman lost his leg in combat.

The slogan, “Earn Every Drop,” is a testament to Cooper’s hard work.

“We have a good, steady product,” he said. “So, over the next  five years, I’m really hoping this takes off, grows regionally, and expands to the 50 states.”

 For information, visit www.blackpatchdistilling.com 

Huntsville’s Business Environment Embraces Veterans

Huntsville is a well-known destination for retiring veterans who want to do business with the government.

In 1992, Rosalyn Thompson-Blackwell and Roderick Herron met during 14 weeks of Officer’s Training at Fort Benning, Ga.

Thompson-Blackwell, president and CEO of Huntsville’s Mb Solutions, had worked as a project manager and acquisitions officer in the Army, stationed in Colorado Springs, Colo. She often came to Huntsville on Temporary Duty because her brother was stationed at Redstone Arsenal.

When she retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 24 years of service, she wanted to start a business that supplied services to the Department of Defense. There was no hesitation about where she would go.

Herron, executive vice president of Mb Solutions, had his college business degree but was deeply in debt. Three years in the Army was the quickest means for paying it off. Twenty-six years later, he found his greater purpose.

When he retired, also as a lieutenant colonel, he made a career decision based on Redstone being the closest military installation to his hometown of Grenada, Miss.

Huntsville is the ‘Pentagon South’ 

“For Army veterans, Huntsville is known as the ‘Pentagon South,’” said Rich McAdams, president of Ignite, a certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business government contractor headquartered in Huntsville. “So much Army acquisition work is done here, it is said that if an Army soldier writes it, shoots it, eats it, drinks it, or consumes it, the Army Materiel Command in Huntsville buys it.

“AMC has an annual budget of $147 billion a year, so you can see why Huntsville is so well-known and highly regarded among veterans, and especially those interested in doing business with the government or military.”

The Challenges of Starting a Veteran-owned Business

Initially, Thompson-Blackwell went to work for People-Tec, a Huntsville contractor which specializes in diversified engineering, modeling and simulation, cybersecurity, rapid prototyping, and program support.

“I had received programmatic and engineering services and knew the military structure and the acquisition process,” she says. “I did not know the business from the contractor’s perspective, so People-Tec mentored me even though they knew I wanted to go into business for myself. They showed me how to cost out contracts and how to manage contracts.”

In 2016, Thompson-Blackwell and Herron opened Mb Solutions together.

“It’s not as easy as it may seem,” says Herron. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of knowledge, the right connections, and many blessings. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is luck!”

“We call it procurement-ready,” says Mary Jane Fleming, Procurement Advisor and VA Certified Verification Advisor at the Small Business Development Center and Procurement Technical Assistance Center. “If you want to do business with the government or team up with large companies, we help you understand the business processes.”

“We went through a lot of growing pains, but we used it to our advantage,” says Thompson-Blackwell. “This is where a military background is important. We used that time to set up operating procedures, write policies, and set up an accounting system. We figured out how our company could be beneficial to veterans with benefits and policies that align with that philosophy. We didn’t waste any of that time.”

According to Foster Perry, director of the SBDC, “This is a military town; Veterans own a lot of businesses here and they hire a lot of veterans. The military has its own culture, so if they can bring someone in who knows that culture, it is a benefit.”

Veterans Make the Best Employees

“I admit I am biased when it comes to veterans,” says McAdams with Ignite. “I am biased for business reasons. Vets make great employees.

“At a young age in the Army, you are given a lot of responsibility. At 22 you might be a section leader in charge of five or six soldiers or a squad leader in charge of 10 or 11 soldiers. If you are in Afghanistan, you are going door-to-door looking for bad guys and making life or death decisions. At 26 years old, you can have 100 people working for you and be responsible for over $100 million worth of equipment. Veterans have maturity and judgement way beyond that of a civian peer.”

Herron and Thompson-Blackwell agree.

“We have been on the other side and have a passion for what we do,” said Thompson-Blackwell. “We know the needs of the kids – the soldiers who are still out there on the front lines.

“If I can provide something to make their life easier or that could save one American child’s life, it’s worthwhile.”

“I think once you have done 24 to 26 years of service, it becomes part of who you are,” said Herron. “That service spirit is embedded in you and you still want to be part of it in some way.

“Providing support to the government is like being a part of something bigger than you.”

McAdams said a key to hiring veterans is their strong work ethic.

“If I have two candidates, all things being equal, but one is a veteran,” he said. “I will hire the vet in a heartbeat because of their work ethic, maturity and judgement.”

 

Rebranded Organization Provides a ‘Catalyst’ to Start a Business

The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship serves as a driver for economic growth and job creation in north Alabama by lending its expertise to small business owners at every stage of business development. By providing quality programming, business coaching, and networking opportunities, The Catalyst offers entrepreneurs and startups the tools they need successfully manage their businesses.

Originally founded in 2003 as the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama (WBCNA),  the organization rebranded itself in 2017 as The Catalyst to better represent its services and mission.

“We’ve grown to be more than just a woman’s business center,” said Katie Williams, project manager. “The Catalyst has multiple projects under one umbrella, all with a different focus.”

Those projects include:

WBC: The Women’s Business Center Project serves as a principal source of information and resources; offering in-depth business coaching, entrepreneurial training, small business development and networking opportunities to help women start, expand and successfully manage their businesses.

TechRich: The Technology Regional Innovation Cluster Project provides services to government contractors, innovative, and technology companies. The Catalyst assists in locating, filtering and facilitating business opportunities by encouraging collaboration, innovation, technology transfer, commercialization and contracting opportunities among technology businesses.

HUBZone Accelerator: The HUBZone Accelerator Project serves as a one-stop resource for HUBZone companies to grow, share resources and market their capabilities to prime businesses and government agencies.

HOPE2 for Winston County: The Catalyst’s most recent project initiative. HOPE2 assists with business services in economically disadvantaged communities in west Alabama. Partnered with Valley Innovation Alliance, small business start-ups and entrepreneurs receive much-needed tech assistance and coaching.

BAM:  A business microloan, focuses on giving entrepreneurs and small business start-ups essential financial resources to keep them on track, helping them to take their business to the next level.  This program is a partnership between Redstone Federal Credit Union, Neighborhood Concepts, and The Catalyst. Says Williams, “We’ve seen a big gap between business startups and banks, where there’s a need for financial resources, yet no past performance data available to qualify for business loans.”

The Catalyst offers a variety of business-focused workshops, seminars, and networking events. In partnership with RFCU, they host a series of business seminars in the Atrium on the Wynn Drive campus.

For more information, visit www.catalystcenter.org and www.redfcu.org/seminars

Uncorked: Wine Shop & Tasting Room a Toast to Success

Uncorked features a price point for everyone. (Photo by Steve Babin)

For the past 26 years, Saranne Riccio has been in the wine business: a distributor, a sommelier, and teaching wine classes to the uninitiated.

She had visions of owning her very own place someday. And, four months ago, those dreams were realized when Uncorked: Wine Shop & Tasting Room opened for business. 

Located in the heart of Providence Main, Uncorked is attractively appointed with a small bar that seats six, a cozy couch and comfy chairs. The walls are adorned with the works of local artists. Recently, the works of Joe Hendrickson were featured, accompanied by an artist’s reception.

Riccio’s secret to her success lies in her simple philosophy.

“Wine doesn’t have to be intimidating. With a price range from $6.99-$200/bottle, there’s a price point for everyone,” she said. “There are several wines for $20 and under that are great bang for the buck.”

For wines by the glass, Riccio offers what she refers to as a “Built in Personal Flight,” a selection of 16 featured wines, either as a two-pour, or as a six-pour flight.

Riccio and her staff are highly responsive to their customers.

“There’s no point in directing someone with a $20 price point into the $200 bottle selections; if someone wants buy a higher end wine, don’t take them to the lower priced varieties,” she said. “Once their spending range is established, we can then find out what their preferences are, what do they like?

“Once we know this, we can help the customer navigate through the wines.”

Along with a variety of wines to suit any budget, there are tasty tidbits, such as Mama’s cheese straws, Arabella’s dilled onions, candied jalapenos, and pepper jelly, Belle Chevre goat cheeses, and Pizzelle’s chocolates. Adding these delightful goodies to a great bottle of wine would make a tasty gift basket.

The holidays, and the associated parties will be here before you know it. Uncorked can help customers with parties for up to 50 people. A $300 facility rental fee allows guests to savor the Uncorked after-hours ambience from 7:30-9:30pm. For an additional fee, there’s a wide assortment of wines and charcuterie that can be tailored to any taste or budget.

What are Riccio’s plans for future growth?

“To make people more aware of our presence, to be that ‘go-to’ place for people to learn about wines,” she said. “… helping to educate people about wines to the extent that they want to learn, and doubling the varieties of our ‘by the glass’ wine selections.”

 

Retailers Dreaming of a Black Christmas

For years economists have pushed the idea that “Black Friday” is the first day of the year in which retailers operating all year “in the red” and at a loss, use the Christmas buying season to turn a profit putting them “in the black.”

Supposedly on the day after Thanksgiving, shoppers are so full of turkey and dressing, and so weary of nonstop football, they can’t wait to blow some dough on heavily discounted merchandise.

The History Channel, however, says this is a myth.

According to the cable TV channel, Black Friday got its name in the 1950s from the Philadelphia police who used the term “Black Friday” to refer to post-Thanksgiving chaos when thousands of suburban shoppers flooded into the city to shop, causing the police to work extra-long shifts to deal with crowds and traffic. This not-so-holly-jolly story also included battling shoplifters who took advantage of the bedlam.

So much for good tidings.

That Black Friday is the single largest retail sales day of the year, however, rings true.

According to the American Marketing Association based on statistics from Adobe Analytics, U.S. retailers earned a record $7.9 billion on Black Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, an increase of nearly 18 percent from 2016.

“Cyber Monday” 2017 added another $6.6 billion in internet sales, making it the largest online shopping day in history. Those sales figures also pushed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s net worth past $100 billion on the day after Thanksgiving, 2017.

This bump in Black Friday spending does not, as many people believe, bode poorly for brick and mortar retail shopping.

Retail research firm ShopperTrak says store traffic declined less than 1 percent on Black Friday 2017, a significantly lesser decline than projected. In 2018, the National Retail Federation projects holiday retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants — will increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $720.89 billion.

Here Comes Santa Claus

Janet Brown, manager for Belk at Bridge Street, confirms that Black Friday is the biggest retail sales day of year, but that truth comes with a little enticement.

“We open at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and are open until 1 a.m.,” Brown said. “Then we open again at 6 a.m. on Black Friday. The first 200 people in line Thursday receive a gift card in denominations of anywhere from $5 to one prize of $500 at every Belk store. On Friday, the first 100 customers in line receive gift cards. Belk as a company is giving away $1,000,000 in gift cards to customers who stand in line.”

Belk will hold Santafest in the children’s department Nov. 10 featuring arts and crafts as well as, of course, pictures with Santa.

The retailer will also have a toy store that officials hope will fill the gap left by the departure of Toys ‘R Us; and they welcome choral groups to sing while people shop. The store will offer refreshments and goodies throughout the holidays and during the official tree lighting event on the Bridge Street promenade.

“We are not doing these things to compete with online sales and to bring people into the store,” says Brown. “Belk has always held these special activities to add a festive atmosphere to our stores during the Christmas season.”

All I Want for Christmas

Tiffani Spengler, manager of Alabama Outdoor in Jones Valley, said they notice a big uptick starting on Black Friday, but they see it as the kickoff for the rest of the busy season ahead.

“We sell a lot of gift items, but we have a whole lot of visitors who want to see what we have available, measure their options, and get ideas,” she said. “They may or may not buy on Black Friday, but we see a steady stream of people who return to make purchases all the way up to Christmas.

“Everyone gets the same experience whether you know what you are looking for like a Patagonia sweater or rock-climbing gear; or whether you are looking for a gift for someone who loves hiking and camping, but you aren’t sure what to get them,” said Spengler. “We can show you how to pack a backpack, explain the difference between buying a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad, help you dress in layers, so you stay warm for a three-day camping trip; or help you prepare for a vacation to Iceland.”

Apparel is their most popular holiday items because Alabama Outdoors promotes functionality and fashion. Jackets, pullovers, fleece and down layered clothing that protects against the elements, hats, scarves, neck warmers, blankets, and socks are all gift favorites.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

“Shoppers are on a mission, especially when looking for gifts for Christmas,” said Dr. Ana Byrne, owner of The Little Green Store on Monte Sano Mountain and the new holiday shop in downtown Huntsville. “They are on a mission to find something interesting, looking for one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces, local artwork, and finely crafted décor. The new store downtown is a challenge because most or our merchandise is individual artistic pieces.”

Chris Gregory of Roosevelt & Co Gentleman’s Supply with Ana Byrne of The Little Green Store. (Photo by Steve Babin)

Will they be doing anything different for Black Friday?

“Our goal is always to make people feel happy, welcome, and comfortable while they are here, and we always work hard at that,” Byrne said. “If it is cold, I have hot chocolate for them to drink; if it is hot, I have cold water for them to drink. We wrap everything you buy as a gift and deliver if you need help getting it home.

“We hold art shows, open houses, and participate in Under the Christmas Tree, activities that keep people seeing what’s new and gives them a chance to meet the artists,” she said. “We carry a lot of holiday items like handmade tree ornaments, ceramics, and Raku Nativities. Our customers are loyal and we have fun with them. We know their taste enough to say, ‘We have something new you are going to love – take a look at this’.”

Santa Baby

Fatemeh Nazarieh and Donny Maleknia of Donny’s Diamond Gallery admits the Christmas holidays are the busiest time of the year for jewelers, but they offer several advantages for people looking for a more relaxing shopping experience on Black Friday.

“Located along the Parkway, no matter how busy we are, there are no problems finding a parking place, no parking garages, we have easy access with no traffic coming in and out, and we have hot drinks, cookies, and candy for you to enjoy while you shop. It is all part of creating a festive atmosphere for shopping,” said Nazarieh.

“The trends in jewelry among younger customers are custom designs, especially in engagement rings. They want something that is theirs alone and of course custom designs is Donny’s specialty.”

Their holiday kickoff came earlier than Black Friday this year with a gem show in late October featuring David Artinian, the Gem Hunter.

“Colored gems and stones are growing in popularity. We specialize in diamonds, but this is the second year David Artinian has done a show with us. People buy the stones and it takes four to six weeks to design a jewelry piece that showcases the stone, just in time for Christmas,” Nazarieh said. “We also have plenty of preset diamonds and gems in our showcases too, so we have something for everyone and in all price ranges.”

O Tannenbaum

Opening at 9 a.m. on Black Friday Pat and Roger Schwerman’s Christmas Tree Plantation in Lacey’s Spring provides the perfect family holiday experience.

Roger grew up on a large farm in Kansas. He and his wife Pat bought the fully operational Christmas Tree farm in 2002, shortly after 9/11. Being in the Pentagon on that day, Roger wanted to get away for some peace and quiet, so he came back and “bought the farm,” so to speak.

“We don’t sell trees, we sell tradition,” said Schwerman.

“I had people stop by and plead with me, sometimes almost threaten me – ‘I’ve been coming to this Christmas tree plantation for 30 years for my Christmas trees and I want that to continue. You cannot get rid of the trees!’” he said with a laugh.

He and Pat had no intention to do so. Their 70-acre Christmas tree plantation has Virginia pine, white pine, leland cypress and deodar cedars and is only open on weekends from Black Friday through Dec. 24.

There are also horses, cows, baby goats, and chickens for the kids to pet and feed. There are antique tractors to enjoy, a country gift shop, a Santa Claus on site, and a train for the little kids to ride.

Pat Schwerman said families carry out an old tradition of cutting their own Christmas trees.

“When you arrive, we provide you with a saw and a measuring stick. You can pick out any tree on the farm you want. We have ‘elves’ to help you if you need any,” she said. “If you cut a live tree on the day after Thanksgiving and put it in a bucket of water when you get home, it will still be fresh after Christmas.

“A previously cut tree is dead and drying out when you buy it. That is why families get together and enjoy the experience of choosing their own tree.”

Onyx Aerospace opens office in Stovehouse

Athens-based Onyx Aerospace opens office in Stovehouse

 

Athens-based Onyx Aerospace has expanded and opened an office in Stovehouse on Huntsville’s Westside. The announcement was made by Stovehouse Properties and Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate.

The aerospace engineering firm will occupy a 2,058-square-foot open-air office space.

“Stovehouse is a vibrant destination that has given us the freedom and flexibility we were looking for,” said Onyx President Steve Hanna. “During our first few months at the development, we found that our team was able to bring ideas to the table faster and get the job done more efficiently. Environment plays an important role when it comes to productivity, and Stovehouse offers a unique work/play setting with food options, entertainment and fresh air when you need to step away from the desk.”

Onyx’s customers include NASA and Boeing and the location provides easy access.

“Onyx has a heavy customer base at Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park,” Hanna said. “Stovehouse is central to our clientele and provides multiple access points to major highways and Huntsville hot spots.”

Hannah said Onyx is a HUBZone company and is looking for ways to encourage growth of HUBZone neighborhoods

“From the beginning, Stovehouse has been clear in its mission to boost West Huntsville by introducing passionate and inventive businesses to the area,” said Stovehouse Properties Owner/Developer, Danny Yancey. “Onyx immediately got behind the project and they have fully embraced the creative atmosphere we’ve cultivated. We look forward to supporting them as they expand their footprint in Huntsville.”

 

 

Record-setting Night for Madison Best in Business Awards

MADISON — It was a record-setting night for the annual Madison Chamber of Commerce Best in Business Awards.

This year’s event was held at the Insanity Complex Entertainment Center and, according to Pam Honeycutt, executive director of the Chamber, it was the biggest awards program ever.

“We had more than 400 attendees and a record number of nominees this year, giving the judges a real challenge to select the winners,” she said. “The Best in Business Awards are a celebration of the amazing contributions our local businesses are making to grow and strengthen our community.”

More than 50 local businesses were nominated in eight categories. The winners were II XCL Strength & Conditioning for Health & Wellness; Lee Company for Home & Living; Nesin Therapy Services for Medical Practice; and Blue Pants Brewery for Food Service. Alexander’s Martial Arts (Health & Wellness); Insanity Complex (Home & Living); Compass Physical Therapy (Medical Practice); and Lawlers Barbecue (Food Service) were finalists.

Deborah Ward of Inside-Out Ministries won the Community Servant of the Year and Sarah Sledge of Madison Public Library was the finalist. HomeFit Consulting won Start-up Business of the Year, with Legacy Chapel Funeral Home and Crematory as the finalist.

Louis Breland of Breland Companies won Excellence in Leadership & Service with Rachel Brown of Rachel Brown Homes the finalist.

Hogan Family YMCA won Nonprofit of the Year; Compass Physical Therapy took Small Business of the Year, and The Riley Center won Best Business of the Year. Finalists in those respective categories were the Downtown Rescue Mission, Inside-Out Ministries, and Kids to Love.

Teresa Croley of iHeartMedia won Ambassador of the Year.

Known for being inspirational and uplifting, the featured speaker was Dr. Karockas Watkins, CEO/President/Executive Director of Ability Plus. Good Samaritan Hospice was the event’s presenting sponsor and Capital Management Services was the trophy sponsor.

The evening started with a cocktail party sponsored by Progress Bank, and the winners and their guests were treated to a VIP champagne reception sponsored by IberiaBank after the program.