Jill Waters, though, is willing to give it a try.
Waters is the owner and operator of Jillybean’s Cupcakes and Ice Cream on the town square in Jacksonville.
The ice cream side of the business isn’t in full swing yet. So Waters’ business is dependent on sales of a single, tiny confection — a product that, when you get right down to it, nobody really needs.
But boy, do they want it.
“We’ve had some customers who’ve come back every day for five days,” Waters said. “People just really like cupcakes.”
Waters has sold 400 to 500 cupcakes per day since opening the store on Thanksgiving weekend.
These aren’t your grandmother’s cupcakes. Jillybean’s is the local manifestation of a growing nationwide love affair with “designer” cupcakes. Waters offers flavors such as the “Elvis” (peanut butter and banana), strawberry lemonade and peanut butter cup.
Her product — synonymous with the light, the fluffy and the sweet — seems like the exact opposite of bricks and mortar, iron and steel, and food-based businesses in general can be tough to maintain over time.
But Waters sees cupcakes as the perfect treat for an imperfect economy.
“The Twinkie came out during the Depression, and it’s still here,” she notes, adding that people turn to comfort foods when the news is bad. And the cupcake’s dainty size makes it, well, cheap.
Waters has a long-term plan. Jacksonville is a college town, after all, and it needs more “must-visit” places.
“My goal is to be to Jacksonville what Dreamland is to Tuscaloosa,” she said.
Dreamland is a barbecue joint in Tuscaloosa that achieved statewide fame on word-of-mouth from University of Alabama alums. Jefferson’s, the pub chain that started down the street from Jillybean’s, may already hold that distinction, but Waters said she wants to find a niche no one else is filling.
“I won’t make hot fudge cakes because I don’t want to take business away from Cecil’s,” she said. “I won’t host birthday parties for little girls because someone in town is already doing that. I want to find my own place.”
Christmas parade a grinch for some business owners
When Anniston’s Christmas parade rolls down Noble Street Dec. 12, it will bring throngs of people to a street that was once the Model City’s busiest thoroughfare.
And every year, parade-goers ask the same question: why aren’t more Noble Street shops open? Foot traffic is a boon to most small businesses, and the parade offers a rare opportunity to see a crowd in front of your store.
Some Noble Street shop owners, however, say it just doesn’t make economic sense to open for the parade.
“When people come to the parade, they come to see the parade,” said Keith Katz, co-owner of Mid-Town Ceramics. “They’re not here to shop.”
Katz won’t open for the parade because Dec. 12 is a Monday, when his store is typically closed. For other parades — past Christmases and Veterans Day — he’s stayed open. It hasn’t led to a flood of business. Mostly, people come inside to watch the parade through the big glass windows, he said. Some ask if they can use the bathroom. Nobody buys things.
Others business owners echoed the sentiment. Some, like Terry Grizzard of Grizzard’s Living Aids, said that even though he maintains a storefront, he relies more on word-of-mouth than street traffic. Grizzard said he was open for the Veterans Day parade and saw no business from it, even though disabled veterans make up a large part of his customer base.
“I hardly ever get walk-in business,” he said.
But not everyone closes. Patrick Wigley, owner of the bike shop Wig’s Wheels, said he knows people won’t be buying a bike on Dec. 12. But if people come into his store, even to use the bathroom, they’ll at least know he’s there.
“You’ve got to think outside the box,” he said.
Still waiting for Black Friday
Everybody knows by now that Black Friday was good this year, with consumers crowding the stores and ringing up higher Christmas-season sales than last year.
But Black Friday — the post-Thanksgiving shopping spree that moves retailers from the red ink into the black — is largely a big-chain, big-box phenomenon. For the mom-and-pop stores and establishments in smaller towns, the shopping calendar is completely different.
Take Weaver, where a handful of shops cluster near City Hall.
At Weaver Flower Shop, co-owner Jessica Cummings had her big boost before the holiday, and she expects another one afterward.
Cummings sells flower arrangements and decorations. Before the holiday, she said, people want centerpieces for their Thanksgiving tables. After Christmas, there’s a spike in orders for funeral flowers. Cummings believes there’s truth to the old adage that people die in greater numbers after Christmas.
Another, smaller boost came Dec. 1, when teachers got paid.
“You definitely see more business when they get paid — and almost none just before payday,” she said.
At Dollar General, the city’s only chain retailer, Black Friday seems to have been just another day. Store employees said the company policy wouldn’t allow them to talk, but they confirmed that the store opened at normal hours on the shopping holiday. Locals said there was no line in front of the store that day.
Annette Moates didn’t even bother with Black Friday. She runs The Blessing Basket, a nonprofit where one goes to buy second-hand clothes, with the proceeds going to charity.
“There’s no point in even opening that day,” she said of the shopping holiday. “They’re heading to the big stores.”
But then, Moates serves a different part of the economy — connecting people with stuff they need, without lots of flash and markup. Business is pretty steady through the year, she said, because people are struggling in the current economy.
But she’s never turned a profit. So far, the store’s charitable contribution has consisted of giving free stuff to people in need. She’s hoping a 99 cent sale, from now till Christmas, will bring in people who like to bargain-hunt.
“We’re going to turn a profit for the first time this year, in Jesus’ name,” she said.