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The original article can be found at http://www.snponline.com/articles/2008/12/20/westerville_news_and_public_opinion/business/weuptown%201_20081217_1207am_29.txt

Uptown merchants banding together in these tough times

By BRET LIEBENDORFER Published: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 4:17 PM EST

Whether its the holiday season or not, Uptown merchants said they have been successful despite the economic slowdown, through banding together.

"Surprisingly we're doing better than most people think," said Renee Kropat, executive director of Gallery 202, an officer in the Westerville Uptown Merchants Association and an organizer of many Uptown events.

"Most people think we're quaint and visit us because there's not many places like us."

Buying patterns have changed and Kropat said there's been a noticeable decrease in higher-priced items. At Gallery 202, that means switching to items under $50 and offering more services like art classes.

For Kriss Rogers, owner of Outside Envy, a store that sells gifts and garden art, sales are up in her second holiday season. She said her success is due to having "unique and eclectic" gifts for everyone in price ranges of $5 to $300.

While some storefronts remain empty, Kropat said Uptown is doing well compared to other similar districts. "All small towns see storefronts come and go, but we're still pretty full," she said.

Working to ensure today's bleak economic situation affects Uptown as little as possible, merchants have been bonding together.

Besides sponsoring annual events like the Home For the Holidays weekend and Wild Women Wander Westerville Holiday Tour, Rogers said WUMA has seen attendance increase at its recent meetings.

While several businesses have paid for individual commercials in the past this year has featured group advertisements. Television promos ran for two weeks around Thanksgiving targeting the time slots of shows like Rachel Ray and The View.

Another joint advertising venture is 75 radio commercials sponsored by 12 merchants. In the commercial, shopping in Westerville is described as casual, fun, and with unique gifts -- whereas malls are anything but, with their traffic and parking concerns.

Twenty-five commercials will run on a local FM station each of the first three weekends in December. The cost was $3,000 or $250 per merchant.

"To get coverage, for that price, is not realistic for one single business," Rogers said. The merchants hope the radio spots increase foot traffic throughout Uptown, not just sales for the 12 businesses sponsoring the ad.

One recent strategy WUMA hopes will have a long-term effect is merchant gift cards, introduced at Midnight Madness Oct. 31. The reusable cards are valid at 17 merchants and customers can place any amount on them. "Next year when everyone is aware of the gift cards, we think they will really take off," Rogers said adding "a fair amount" have already been sold.

"Surprisingly we're doing better than most people think." --Renee Kropat






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