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Kent businesses hope downtown revitalization draws big crowds Saturday

By Andy Harris
Ohio.com correspondent

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Off the Wagon, a store in downtown Kent, sells unique and unusual gifts such as pickle, bacon and mustache gifts. Off the Wagon is offering discounts and specials for Black Friday. (Andy Harris/Ohio.com)
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KENT: A three-pronged push of America's biggest unofficial (shopping) holiday, a national small business campaign and the ongoing development in the downtown Kent area have local retailers hoping for a profitable weekend of business.

The combination of Black Friday, the American Express-sponsored Small Business Saturday event and a growing number of shops and places to eat in the downtown area have retailers such as Wild Earth Outfitters hoping for a busy weekend.

Although the Black Friday rush tends to focus more on large retail chains and eager consumers lining up in the early-morning hours to battle one another for the best deals, Wild Earth owner Tim Nightingale believes there is still a chance for the combination of Black Friday and Small Business Saturday to increase in-store traffic.

"I think we saw last year, Black Friday is more focused on the big-box stores, but really, we're gearing up even more so for Small Business Saturday, which I think American Express has done a great job promoting to its customers.”

Wild Earth Outfitters, which has been open for about 14 months, sits in the middle of a drastically different section of downtown than it occupied when it opened last year. At the time, the store was the only retail operation in its section of downtown and this year, other clothing stores, jewelry boutiques and toy stores are open in the area.

An increase in the number of restaurants in the area, including Panini's and Yogurt Vi, have made a day shopping downtown more viable for consumers, a development Nightingale attributes in part to a philosophical shift in buying habits.

"I think there's a trend shift to where people have moved away from big malls, into shopping at smaller stores, especially if they don't have to get into their car and drive to the mall," Nightingale added. "By walking around the block, you can shop in a bunch of different types of stores."

One of those unique stores is Silver & Scents, owned and operated by Laurie Gumbiner. Gumbiner previously operated a jewelry store in Summit Mall, but elected to move to the downtown Kent area as the downtown revitalization was beginning.

Silver & Scents offers different types of handmade jewelry and clothing, including products made from alpaca hair.

Having traveled to Peru several times and shopped in its open-air markets, Gumbiner says she leans toward organic products, and although her shop is not the typical business that would fit with Black Friday, she is making sure her products are fully stocked up for the weekend. She is optimistic that an increase in foot traffic because of the downtown revitalization will spur more business in her small shop.

The sentiments are similar for Off the Wagon, a store owned by Michelle Sahr and located at the opposite end of Acorn Alley from Wild Earth Outfitters. Off the Wagon bills itself as a place for unique and unusual gifts, which seems like an apt description for a business offering "pickle gifts, bacon gifts and mustache gifts." Like Wild Earth Outfitters, Off the Wagon is offering discounts and specials for Black Friday, and, with a location at 152 East Main St., it is located in an area that receives as much traffic as any business in the downtown area.

Even without the sight of customers pitching tents, camping out and attempting to elbow their way through the door as soon as the store opens, downtown business owners and city officials are hopeful that some of the shopping energy from Black Friday and Small Business Saturday spur interest in shopping locally in an area of Kent that looks much different than it did just one year ago.