Propelled by a favorable exchange rate, better prices and increased taxes back home, Canadians have been crossing the border all year to shop in the Flathead.
Local retailers expect the holiday season to be no different. Already, Canadians are showing up in droves to get ready for Christmas.
Denise Magstadt, co-owner of the Imagination Station toy stores in Kalispell and Whitefish, said one of the many Canadians to come into her store recently traveled all the way to Kalispell to shop for 13 grandkids.
“Last week was a huge Canadian week,” Magstadt said.
But while dollars from our northern neighbors are a big bonus, Flathead shop owners are also anticipating a strong showing from the people who really drive their businesses: the locals. Retailers feel that, while economic ills persist, the worst of the slump is behind us and people are ready to open up their wallets for their local shops.
To be sure, storeowners aren’t predicting a wild shopping frenzy. Rather, they expect a season of thoughtful consumerism where shoppers carefully select their gifts. Instead of making four or five purchases for somebody, consumers may take the time to find that one present that’s really needed.
And, considering the prolonged economic lull, it’s likely people’s wish lists include some basic necessities that they haven’t been able to afford.
“I think it will be practical, pragmatic Christmas giving this year,” B.J. Lupton, owner of Snappy Sport Senter, said. “I think there’s a great many people who are under stress, really fighting the budget battle. I think this will not be the year for fluffy, unnecessary giving – not the year for impulse buying.”
While it would be tempting to use the cliché “cautious optimism” in describing local retailers’ outlook, the term may be misleading. For some retailers, it’s pure, unbridled enthusiasm, driven by an already strong year.
Magstadt, who is in her 16th year of running Imagination Station, said “it’s actually been a really good year for us so far,” and the trend seems to be continuing into the holidays. Imagination Station’s other owner is Mary Witbrod.
“This could be one of the best (holiday) seasons for us, maybe ever,” Magstadt said. “Lots of grandparents. We just love our grandparents. They’re the ones who like to come in and spoil their grandkids.”
Mark Pirrie, co-owner of Western Outdoor Store in Kalispell, is similarly enthused about the Christmas buying season, which has essentially already started but really takes off after Thanksgiving. Like other retailers, Pirrie has enjoyed a solid year thanks in large part to Canadians.
“Awesome,” Pirrie said in predicting business for the holidays. “I think it’s going to be good. People seem to be in a little more of a spending mood.”
He added: “I think everybody’s pretty optimistic. I don’t hear anyone saying it’s doom and gloom. Maybe we’ve just turned the corner.”
While Pirrie, Lupton and Magstadt represent businesses that are well established in the Flathead, up-and-coming retailers are also confident. One such shop owner is Michelle Gentry, who recently moved her clothing store Machallie G’s to a location on First Avenue East from a different spot in Kalispell.
Gentry benefitted from her new location over the summer, when tourists who were walking by frequently stopped in, including a high percentage of Canadians. But Gentry has locals coming in as well. The holidays, she said, are a chance for Flathead residents to show their appreciation for local businesses.
“It will be a good time to really support our local mom and pop shops,” Gentry said.
Magstadt expressed the same sentiment and said, in every town in the Flathead, you can find quality mom and pop shops downtown.
“Downtown in all of our towns is where you find unique things,” she said. “A lot of them have locally made gifts and they’re all locally owned.”
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