With six days until Christmas, the Kalispell Center Mall was a hive of activity, with cars and trucks pulling into the parking lot in the dreary, rainy weather, their occupants bustling in the mall doors and heading off to find those perfect gifts.
The mall was decorated for the season, with garland and strings of lights and Christmas trees, and Santa himself waited to hear the wish lists of the smallest shoppers.
Being a shopping center, it’s a given that the mall would be busy during the holiday gifting season. But adding some extra business to the mall are the holiday kiosks, set up in the empty walkway space between storefronts.
The kiosks boast a wide variety of offerings, ranging from the perennial favorites like Hickory Farms, known for its holiday meats and treats, to calendars and Christmas-themed gifts.
Some are independent operations, only opening up for a couple of months to snag the Christmas shoppers, while others are extensions of brick and mortar businesses, either already in the mall or located elsewhere throughout the valley.
A few have found enough success to stay open year round, mall manager and marketing director Eric Peterson said.
“Kiosks bring a good energy out in the mall,” he said. “When you walk by and you get a free sample at Hickory Farms, when you’re out there you can touch and feel and not commit to going into a store, it’s fun, people say hello, it’s friendly. The ambience is really good.”
This year, the mall has filled 100 percent of its kiosk space with about 20, and Peterson said he had to create more room by cutting down the maximum allowable size for kiosks.
For Angie Olsen, owner of Angie’s Greenhouse in Columbia Falls, this is the first Christmas season she’s had a kiosk at the mall; her plants, arrangements and gifts have been featured in a kiosk during Valentine’s Day week.
Olsen’s kiosk, decorated with festive greenery and offering custom-made wreaths as well as gift items like figure skates with wintery scenes hand-painted on them, has been up since November.
Business has been good, she said, though it’s all relative, because she doesn’t have a prior year to compare it to. She said it will come down to the last shopping week before Christmas to be sure about profit margins.
Otherwise, it’s been a great way to show customers the array of items her Columbia Falls location offers.
“I think that it’s good advertising for my other location, because a lot people didn’t know I carry the gift items, like metal art,” she said.
Nearby, the massive Hallmark kiosk works as an extension of the storefront operating in the mall. Store manager Anita Ellman was hustling around the various sections of the kiosk, offering calendars, journals, clothing, Montana-centric gifts, and huckleberry creations.
The special section is up from October through December. It’s a lot of work, she said, but it’s her favorite kind.
“It is definitely worthwhile,” Ellman said. “I keep busy.”
Rob and Bette Willington drove from New Hampshire to set up shop in the Kalispell mall, with their Home for Christmas kiosk, which sells a variety of Christmas and holiday-themed gifts.
This is their third year at the mall, the second in a kiosk, and they said they love the atmosphere of the holiday season, with shoppers stopping by to say hello or wish them Merry Christmas.
October and November were a bit slow, Rob Willington said, and he suspects it had to do with the Canadian dollar’s dropping status. Still, the couple said they’ve had a solid season.
“Overall, we’re pretty pleased, and the mall is decorated better than it’s ever been,” Willington said.
Willington grew up in Alberta and used to vacation in the Flathead, and their recent forays into the holiday business have proven fruitful. Other than the travel and kiosk fee, there isn’t much overhead, and it’s more personal the online shopping.
“It’s worthwhile, particularly if you live here,” he said. “It’s not just business; you get to touch so many people’s lives.”
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