Main Street isn’t Easy Street, especially during the holidays. Our woman’s clothing boutique, d.j. crater, has been on Main Street in Chatham, N.J., for nearly 30 years. 

We specialize in lifestyle dressing with an extensive inventory of clothing and accessories that can be worn from day into evening.  The stress is taken out of shopping by providing each customer with expert fashion advice as they choose a wardrobe or a gift for someone special.

 Hurricane Sandy hit Chatham hard, causing our town to come to a complete halt for more than a week. (Along with traditional gifts, some residents will find generators tied with bows under their Christmas trees.) With the stress and expense that the storm has added to people’s lives we can only be hopeful that our sales will remain level with the 2011 holiday season.

 Evening and early morning shopping events such as trunk and fashion shows attract the ladies of our area to d.j. crater.  Our  new rewards program enables customers to collect points for the purchases that they make.  These are redeemed for cash discounts, special gifts and services only available at our storeOur new Facebook page keeps customers updated about our daily happenings.

If you drive by the store right now, you will see mannequins with custom-printed holiday T-shirts, emblazoned with “peace” and
“joy” amid the Christmas lights in the display windows. And we are working hard to see that this holiday season brings “joy”
to our business.

Large retailers have Black Friday. Online businesses have Cyber Monday. Both have enormous marketing budgets behind them,
and we can’t compete. But two years ago, American Express gave my store the best holiday gift ever. By sponsoring “Small Business
Saturday” on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, American Express created a day for us with its own enormous marketing budget
— radio, television, Web — behind it.

To make Small Business Saturday successful, we advertised hard.  We sent e-mails to our customers inviting them to the store, we hung posters in our windows and displayed flyers at our counter.  We opened at 7 a.m., offering “early bird specials” along with refreshments. 

 Still, we can’t rely only on Small Business Saturday. With our Downtown Alliance and other local stores, we participate in
a “Ladies’ Shopping Night” the week before Thanksgiving. This event brings out more than 100 local women who shop with their friends in downtown Chatham. During the entire holiday season, we extend our hours and staff up.

Our customers are becoming more aware of “shopping small.” Small retailers and restaurants are the core of our hometown, and
that ambience is what attracts many people to live here. Our challenge is always finding a reason for customers to take the time to visit d.j. crater rather than opting for the convenience of the mall or the comfort of Internet shopping at home.

Being small can be an advantage.  We know our customers well and can meet their personal wardrobing needs when choosing our inventory.  Carrying the right inventory for our target customers saves them the time it takes to walk the mall or surf the Internet.

 Promotions always motivate shoppers.  During the months of January and August, and many times during the holiday season, we offer 20 percent off of all costume jewelry.  To attract customers to our day and evening events, we give them a free gift with any purchase along with drawings for $50 gift certificates to our store.

 Being part of our community is extremely important to us. Pink and silver bracelets, designed and made by us, are given to all customers who have been affected by breast cancer. My gardens in the front and back of the store add a touch of beauty to the downtown. We support our community fundraisers. During the aftermath of Sandy, we opened our doors to all who needed heat, WiFi and power to charge their electronics. 

 We cannot compete with the extensive inventory or discounted prices offered by large retailers, but we work harder to do what we do best. We want our customers to feel that they are visiting a friend’s home and not a store. We offer conversation and friendship. At times, we even offer a shoulder to cry on. In this economy, our customers are spending less on gifts, so we make sure to have a varied and large selection of merchandise under $30.

Our sales team makes every customer feel important and special. Gift purchases are wrapped beautifully and free of charge.  We have aggressively stocked our customed-designed red T-shirts printed with the words: Peace, Believe, Joy and Merry on the front.  These, along with costume jewelry, scarves and fingerless gloves for texting are outpacing sales of other items this year. 

 As a small business owner, we wear all the hats, including the optimist’s.  Main Street may not be Easy Street, but it is our street.

  Doris Crater is co-owner of d.j. crater , a lifestyle apparel and accessories boutique based in Chatham, N.J.