After the turkey has been eaten and thanks have been given, many local stores will begin bracing for what has become almost another American holiday — Black Friday, the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
It’s a day many retailers prepare for year-round, and it gets its name because the day’s high sales volume can shift a store’s profits from being in the red — i.e. operating at a loss — to turning a profit.
“This is easily the biggest time of year for us. We work all year for this time of year,” said Taylor Jones, store manager of Bling Hays in Big Creek Crossing. “And it’s just gradually grown. It’s gone from just Black Friday to now people go out on Thanksgiving and now on Black Friday. It’s a huge time of year.”
Many Hays stores will offer extended holiday hours on Thanksgiving night and early the following Friday. “Small Business Saturday” is the next day. Because this three-day period has the potential to impact retailers so significantly — and in the midst of a continuing drop in city sales tax revenue — local officials are working to send residents a simple message: Shop local if you can.
Several Hays organizations are joining forces to offer “holiday cheer stations” providing shoppers with free hot beverages as part of a “keep the cheer here” campaign. The stations will be at Walmart, Big Creek Crossing and downtown Hays during anticipated busy hours on Black Friday. It’s a joint effort between Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Hays Development Corp. and United Way of Ellis County as a way to reward shoppers who choose to patronize local businesses.
“This is when it’s make or break for many of our retail stores,” said Tammy Wellbrock, executive director of the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce. “They are basing their success and their ability to try to hire new employees and longevity based on what they do here in this month, month-and-a-half time frame.”
City of Hays officials also have been looking at ways to help boost local sales, as the city’s general operations such as police and fire protection and local parks are funded solely by a three-quarter cent sales tax enacted in 2004. Property tax is not levied to fund the city’s general operations.
And the city’s sales tax revenue has been dropping for the past two years, ending 2016 with a loss of $248,000 — or approximately 3 percent — from the previous year. So far this year, the city is down $55,000 from 2016 revenues, said city finance director Kim Rupp.
“It’s not horrific, but certainly the wrong direction,” Rupp said.
Sales tax collections by industry classification for the city’s top 10 tax collectors also are down 1.35 percent, or nearly $27,000, so far this quarter. These top 10 industries represent more than 77 percent of the total quarter-to-date sales tax distribution.
There is a two-month lag in city tax reports, meaning the final figures from November shopping will not be available until January.
“Certainly, this is the time of year that’s going to make or break their year for a lot of them,” Rupp said of local businesses.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exact causes of the declining trend for sales taxes, but it’s possible residents still are feeling the effects of a sluggish oil and commodities economy, Rupp said. The rise of online discount shopping also likely has been a challenge for local stores.
While online shopping sites might be able to offer certain items for a lower cost, Wellbrock encouraged residents to consider the “indirect value” of choosing to make local purchases.
“It’s very difficult for local stores that pay for brick and mortar and employees to compete against an online store that’s not,” Wellbrock said. “But those same online (companies) are out-of-town operations. They are not the ones helping keep your community running.
“These are not the businesses that are supporting our school programs, your kids’ events. They’re not paying local taxes, and they’re not hiring your friends, family and neighbors. We definitely need people to understand that maybe in the long run (shopping local) is worth spending a few extra dollars.”
As another way to encourage local shopping, the chamber offers “Chamber Cheques” that serve as gift certificates to any business affiliated with Hays Area Chamber of Commerce. The gift certificates are taken by approximately 500 area businesses, and can be purchased at the chamber office, 27th and Vine.
There also are direct benefits to shopping local, such as quality customer service and having a local store to stand behind the product, said Sara Bloom, executive director of DHDC. The downtown Hays shopping district will offer holiday hours for both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday the following day.
As another incentive for residents to keep their spending local, 19 downtown stores and restaurants will give customers a free raffle ticket for a $2,500 “downtown dollars” giveaway.
“As a small business owner, you never know what the year’s going to bring, but you can always bank on the holiday season. You know people will be shopping for gifts,” Bloom said. “The local, small businesses are the ones supporting us in everything, whether it’s schools or scouts. It’s the small businesses who are really funding those organizations in the community, so we need to support them back.”