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Merchants opening up to new ideas

By By BILL CRIST – Publisher
It's hard to try something new, or to re-start something that has faded away. The questions, uncertainty and all too often negative input during the planning process make it much easier to stay in our comfort zone and resist change than to embrace the unknown.
Another natural reaction many of us find ourselves reverting to is throwing up our hands and giving up. We do it in business, on the athletic field and in our personal lives. Rather than fighting to make things better, we get lazy and tell ourselves, "this is just how it's going to be."
With the holiday season upon us, and the shortest shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas that the calendar will allow, many of our local merchants are taking that same approach. Rather than marketing their goods and services, they are sitting back and keeping their fingers crossed that customers will come in the store. While some economic reports may reinforce this conservative approach, others are pointing to strong growth this holiday season. And several local merchants are hoping to ride that wave to a successful holiday retail season.
On Thursday night, downtown Brewton will be alive with after-hours shopping, refreshments and family entertainment as well as discounts at some of our favorite local shops. At 5 p.m. the switch will be thrown and the downtown retail area will come alive with lights and decorations. And rather than stop with a one-night event, many of the downtown merchants have agreed to stay open late every Thursday night between the celebration and Christmas.
Sure, there were people at the planning meetings that said it couldn't be done. And there are businesses that have opted not to be a part of the celebration. But those are minor obstacles to overcome compared to the potential strides that can be made in attracting shoppers to Brewton. Even if it's just for those four nights, the impact of increased local shopping during the holidays will be felt from one end of the city to the other.
Last year, Atmore stepped out on a limb by foregoing the city's portion of the sales tax collected during the holiday season. While the loss of revenue for the city was significant, most shoppers would notice only a penny or two savings for every dollar they spent. But what amounted to a small 2 percent discount led to widespread attention, increased sales and a sense of civic pride. The businesses, chamber of commerce and city leaders tried something different, and their attempt to make what could have been a bleak holiday season met its goal on a grand scale.
The merchants in Brewton are making a similar effort to build the excitement back into the holiday shopping season. Rather than throwing up their hands and watching the cars cross Murder Creek on the way to Pensacola, they are working hard to make sure cars stop before reaching the bridge. They have designed a family-oriented, fun event that the community will enjoy.
All the activities planned this year will fill a void in this community's celebration. Aside from the Chamber of Commerce's parade, residents here have had little in the way of a public celebration of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just as importantly, the businesses organizing and sponsoring this year's event realize that it may take several years for the event to grow to its true potential.
Trying something new is never easy. Just ask any child that finds broccoli on his or her plate for the first time. A group of local merchants is giving a citywide celebration a try this year. They have designed a fun event that all of us can enjoy. I hope to see you there.