Eugene, Oregon is a town known for supporting its small businesses, and this season many local shoppers are showing their commitment. After a difficult 2008 and a steady 2009, Eugene Toy and Hobby is poised to “have an extremely good year,” according to co-owner Mark Agerter. It’s a sentiment echoed by many of the shops owners and managers in downtown Eugene, a district mostly occupied by locally owned businesses.
However, “The customer is still cautious,” says Jewel Murphy, owner of Passionflower Design, an upscale gift shop. Such caution is also evident at Down to Earth, a garden and housewares shop. Chris Donahue, Garden and Nursery Manager, says, “People are being practical” with their purchases and she hears them debating costs versus necessity in the aisles.
Even still, most stores are on track to have a good season, especially compared to 2008. “People are looking for quality,” Murphy says. For small businesses like Passionflower, quality is not limited to the goods they sell. It includes the entire shopping experience, and it is one way small businesses compete with their big box counterparts. “We can’t compete with them dollars-wise,” says Agerter. But he notes, “You can walk in and talk to someone” at Eugene Toy and Hobby. That isn’t an option at a big retailer.
Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life takes it even further. “We sell quality, knowledge and service,” says co-manager Michael Martin, elements that big box retailers cannot easily provide. When asked how Paul’s manages to compete with those large retailers, Martin laughs. “They can’t compete with us,” he says. It’s the clearest sign that small businesses are recovering economically and are ready for this holiday season.
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