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Merchants on right track with holiday strategy

Retailers hoping to rake in the green last month may instead be singing of a “Blue Christmas.”
But it wasn’t completely their fault.
Remember back to Sept. 10, 2001. Americans were experiencing good times. Businesses were booming, job security was good, and consumers weren’t afraid to part with their hard-earned cash.
What a difference a day can make.
While we’ve returned to many of our pre-9/11 habits, some things still seem out of reach, such as a stable economy and world peace. Corporations continue to downsize, and we appear to be moving closer and closer to World War III each day.
Despite the world turmoil, Christians remembered the birth of Christ on Dec. 25. Many of them celebrated with what’s become an American tradition: buy, buy, buy.
In hopes of generating more sales this past holiday season, with six fewer shopping days, some Corydon retailers tried something new: extended hours, to include staying open late on Friday nights, an idea that’s been tossed around by some for several years.
And the Corydon Scenic Railroad’s first venture with its very successful “Polar Express” drew hundreds of extra people into town on three weekends.
While some of the train passengers may have stayed and shopped after returning to the depot (or arrived early before the train’s departure to check out what the merchants had to offer), Mother Nature didn’t cooperate some of those evenings. Icy conditions one Friday and heavy rains on another didn’t make walking the town square, or taking a carriage ride through town, very enticing.
Hopefully, the shop owners who extended their hours in 2002 will give it another try later this year and perhaps others will join them. The Corydon Scenic Railroad already has indicated its intentions to have the Polar Express again.
It will take shoppers who have “tried Corydon first” in the past some time to learn that they can come here on Friday evenings and find shops open and ready to do business with them.
Perhaps as Friday night hours prove successful, businesses will look at Sunday hours, at least during December.
Sean Hawkins, who joined the Harrison County Convention Visitors Bureau last spring as its community development manager, worked diligently to promote Corydon during the holiday shopping season. (He’s also been energetic about touting other Harrison County communities and their festivities.)
But Hawkins can’t do the job himself, and he shouldn’t be expected to do that. It takes the active involvement of those directly affected, and they must work together.
Organizational efforts such as the old Main Street Corydon and the more recent Historic Corydon Business Association are good ideas, but the groups keep disbanding.
Efforts are underway to revitalize the Main Street Corydon; we encourage business owners to join in and help keep up the momentum that started in 2002.
That can be done in several ways, including educating yourself and your employees about what else is available in the area, diversify your goods to include something that others here don’t offer, and don’t hesitate to try something new.
See what works in other areas.
Take, for example, another former first state capitol, St. Charles, Mo. Despite its close proximity to St. Louis and its suburbs, which have big retailers like Target and Wal-Mart and shopping malls, people like to shop in the historic downtown district that borders the Missouri River. Shops, similar to the ones here, line both sides of the main cobblestone road.
During the holiday season, carolers dressed in Charles Dickens period costumes stroll the sidewalks. There’s a live reindeer for children to see and photograph. And, of course, Santa roams the street and visits with youngsters.
There are caf’s that provide shoppers a place to rest their feet and grab a bite to eat or have a drink. They even offer outdoor seating, complete with heaters, so you don’t miss the holiday atmosphere.
The Head Bean Coffee Shoppe is a welcome addition to downtown Corydon – it’s another indication that we’re on our way.
Shoppers checking out what St. Charles has to offer won’t find a beautifully decorated town square like we have in Corydon, but they will find shops open on Sundays, as well as Saturdays and late on Fridays.
It all helps business owners hear something jingle besides sleigh bells.