For Darlene Kelly, the prize drawings proved that a recent customer appreciation week in downtown Beaufort was a success -- about 85 percent of the winners were local.
"I think the locals really appreciated the fact that the merchants took the time and thought of it, and the merchants gave back to them," the owner of Simply Southern and Simply Southern Too said.
The special week was an impromptu idea that came together in a week and a half. The two dozen businesses that participated said thank-you to customers Sept. 24-30. They split the $2,688 tab to pay for 56 parking spots on Bay Street, so customers could park for free. They also held events and sales.
Although merchants report mixed success on sales, almost all are telling Kelly they would participate again. She plans to make it an annual event and to expand the week next year to all stores downtown, not just those on Bay Street.
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Last week was a trial run to see how it would be received by merchants and customers alike, she said. Kelly still awaits responses to a survey she sent to participating businesses, but it was clear some got caught up in the spirit of the week.
Jolie Home and Events posted phrases of the day on Facebook. If customers used them, they got discounts. Q on Bay held an oyster night with live music.
Goldon House Gallery, which opened in June, had a 50 percent increase in sales, general manager Morgan Starling said. Owner Vincent Golshani said the gallery would be willing to participate in similar weeks every three or four months.
"It really encourages camaraderie amongst vendors downtown because we're comparing notes about how things are going," sales executive Andree Lloyd said.
Although locals were the focus of the week, visitors like Denise Mitchell and Frank Crawford took notice.
"In Asheville, they wouldn't have even thought of that," Crawford said. "If they could get the meter maids to work on Sundays, they would."
Businesses are still distributing prizes and contacting winners from a drawing Sunday, Kelly said. In instances in which visitors won, they are given the option of paying for shipping. If they decline, a second drawing will be held.