Holidays can make or break the profit margins of small retail businesses.
In Dickinson, the time carries even greater meaning for relatively new businesses — especially those that sprang up in recent years around the promise of the burgeoning energy industry and population growth, only to see commerce wane in the wake of the industry’s slowdown.
“In general, business is slower,” said Brooke Leno, manager of Out of Town and Out of Town Kids in the Prairie Hills Mall. “People aren’t coming in and dropping a bunch of money like they used to. They’re being more strategic about their purchases. It’s nothing that’s going to make or break us. It’s definitely slower and you can tell. But it seems like the last few days, people are getting into that Christmas shopping.”
Despite slower days throughout the year, Leno and other independent business owners in Dickinson said the first weekend of holiday shopping either met or exceeded expectations.
Kelli Wojahn is in her first year as owner of Loom, a women’s clothing store in downtown Dickinson. She said because she wasn’t open during the peak years of the oil boom, she has no expectations on what kind of business the store will bring in this Christmas season.
However, she noted Friday afternoon that she was pleased with her sales and downtown’s foot traffic.
“It’s nice to see them shopping local and small,” Wojahn said. “To see them shopping in Dickinson is nice, too. … For the most part, I’ve been happy with how things are going.”
Another women’s apparel store in its first year also enjoyed a busy weekend.
Leah Madler, owner and manager of Mainstream Boutique in the American West Plaza, took a breather toward the end of a busy Friday after the shop had mostly cleared out to reflect on her first post-Thanksgiving rush.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “We’re very pleased.”
Madler said advertisements and deals, such as a grab-bag deal where three lucky shoppers received 50 percent off their entire purchase, were essential to getting customers through the door.
She said women from Dickinson and surrounding communities are showing up to help support Mainstream Boutique and other businesses like it during the holidays.
“For the most part, it’s local women that are shopping — people I know,” said Madler, who lives outside of New England. “We get a lot of the small-town gals shopping here.”
Deb Lervik, who owns the Foxes Den gift shop in Medora and operates the business as a kiosk in the Prairie Hills Mall until Christmas Eve, said her old customers continue to come back during the holidays.
“We have kind of a customer base, and they know we come back year after year,” said Lervik, who used to have a storefront in the mall next to where her kiosk is now. “We’ve been around and that has helped.”
She said 2014 was an “exceptional year” for sales because of customers brought in by the oil activity. She said this year, numbers are “kinda right on.”
Not everyone is staying steady though.
Larry Luithle, owner of the Goal Line Sports memorabilia shop in the mall, said his Black Friday sales were down about 50 percent from 2014.
“It’s been a downtick from last year,” he said. “Oil people leaving, population going down.”
Luithle purchased the business two years ago, and said when he first took over, the store was frequented by oilfield workers spending money on their favorite sports team’s collectibles.
Now, he’s hoping for a good holiday season to make up for the loss of those profits.
“For me, (the holiday shopping season) gets me through the rest of the year,” Luithle said. “It makes me be able to stay open year-round.”
Leno said she too has noticed a significant drop in certain sales because of the oil slowdown.
“The guys are gone,” she said. “Our men’s sales have definitely been down, but that’s to be expected.”
Regardless, Leno said things are off to a good start.
Her Thanksgiving Day sales beat that day’s sales from a year ago and the store’s Black Friday sales were looking solid, too, she said.
“It’s looking hopeful for this holiday season,” Leno said.