“I’ve always been a Black Friday shopper, and when we opened the store three years ago, I was sad I wasn’t going to be able to do that anymore,” she said. “So I thought I would participate in it the way bigger stores do.”
She started planning a traditional Black Friday — the kind where a store opens at 6 a.m. and offers discounts to early customers. She tried selling the idea to other shop owners in Alexandria’s Old Town Boutique District.
“I couldn’t get a lot of the other retailers on board,” she said. “They didn’t want to get up at 6 a.m., and they said that day is traditionally a day folks spend at the big stores.”
Typically, they’d be correct. The National Retail Federation estimates that 52 percent of people shopped at department stores on Black Friday weekend in 2010, compared with 7.2 percent in craft or fabric stores. But Firbre Space has anything but a typical customer base.
“Knitting is a highly addictive activity, and I happen to feed the addiction,” Romanetti said. When she opened the store at 6 a.m. that year, there was a line of people waiting -- and knitting.
“Knitters are really excitable, and they enjoy comraderie and community,” she said.
That day, Romanetti made six times as much as she normally makes. She had 268 customers when an average day would bring about 45. The next year, the number of Old Town boutiques doing Black Friday grew to eight. This year, there will be at least 32.
“Small, independent retailers like us were not convinced that we could draw people in like the big box stores - that’s like David and Goliath,” said Kim Putens, owner of Old Town lingerie store Bloomers and co-founder of the Old Town Boutique District. “But sure enough, Danielle was right. By having more and more stores getting involved, it makes it a nice draw for people to come and have a one-stop shopping experience.”
Small businesses aren’t normally able to sell items at the same discounts that large retailers are because their profit margins are generally much slimmer.
“It’s really hard for small businesses to compete with the super bargains at the big-box stores,” said Leisa Reinecke Flynn, professor of marketing and fashion merchandising at the University of Southern Mississippi. “There’s no way businesses are going to be able to make money by selling lots of things at super-cheap prices. They have to come up with something else.”
In Old Town, the “something else” is a critical mass of specialty stores whose products almost never go on sale. Romanetti, for example, has hand-dyed yarns in limited quantities, which avid knitters want to be the first to snatch up.