Minot's booming economy and multiple thriving industries have allowed downtown businesses to enjoy their best holiday season in years.
Denise Lindbo, owner of Gourmet Chef, said they have been busy the entire holiday season, which has been better than the past few years. Lindbo said there are a wide variety of positive factors that have played into this.
"The influx of new people in town, all the publicity about downtown, people realizing that we're down here, people having a little more flexible income here in North Dakota compared to different places," Lindbo said.
A group of people enter one of the stores along Main Street in downtown Minot Wednesday. Although only a handful of people were out and about downtown the day after Christmas, overall the businesses there had an outstanding holiday season.
Elizabeth Eaton of Globe, Ariz., browses a book in Main Street Books Wednesday afternoon. Eaton makes a point of going to Main Street Books and several other downtown businesses in Minot whenever she visits family in the area.
While it has been busy overall, Lindbo said Wednesday, the day after Christmas, had been pretty slow as of the early afternoon. She said the extremely cold weather probably played a part in keeping people away, but she wasn't too concerned as the dearth of shoppers was giving her a chance to catch her breath as the year winds down.
"We've had people in today, but not like the crazy busy that we've had the past several weeks," Lindbo said. "It gives us a chance to get ready for inventory."
Although the day after Christmas is notorious for customers returning unwanted gifts in swarms, Lindbo said she had relatively few returns. Most shoppers coming through the door were looking to pick up odds and ends they didn't find under the Christmas tree, she said, and were taking advantage of all the half-price Christmas items she was trying to clear out.
"It's a variety today. I know we've sold a full knife set, we've got a gentleman now who I can see is buying a bunch of bakeware," Lindbo said. "The items we carry here people use a lot during the wintertime with the cookware and bakeware and cutlery, so when they're preparing their meals for the family or baking their cookies they're using these items."
Lindbo said just about all the customers she's dealt with have had a big dose of the holiday spirit and have been a pleasure to help. She said that kind of positive attitude went a long way in making this a wonderful holiday season for her.
"We've just had a great season. It's nice to see the downtown stores doing so well, and with the economy of Minot and North Dakota overall it's just really nice to see when you know what's going on outside of North Dakota," Lindbo said. "We're pretty blessed to have the economy and the influx of good fortune that we've had."
Margie Bolton, owner of Margie's Art Glass Studio, said her Christmas season was busy, as well, with excited customers constantly coming through the door. After the national economic woes and the Souris River flood of 2011, Bolton said the steady business this season was refreshing.
"It was a very nice season. We stayed very busy. Between when the stock market fell and with the flood, it's just been a really nice bounce-back year to have," Bolton said. "You look at it and you go, 'Could we have been busier?' Maybe a little, but for the kind of business that we are, we were very busy."
It disappoints Bolton to hear some people complain about how busy Minot has become. She said all the new construction being done and new people moving in excites her, and she's really looking forward to the many plans to revitalize downtown coming to fruition and bringing even more people into the area.
"I'd have to say that probably 99 percent of everybody that comes through my door who is from out of town, I have really enjoyed them. They have been really nice," Bolton said. "I have a lot of local, very loyal customers, but I've met a lot of really nice, new customers, and they've just been great people."
Like Gourmet Chef, Bolton said Wednesday had been pretty slow for her, but she was expecting things to pick up a little as the evening came on. She said most people were probably returning things earlier in the day, which explains her lack of customers since her one-of-a-kind artwork and art classes generally aren't big return items. After those returns are complete, she expects to see more customers in her shop to take advantage of the closeout sales.
"People get cabin fever and they want to get the family out, and then we start to get really busy," Bolton said. "I'm expecting a little bit later today we'll be really busy."
Over at Main Street Books, owner Val Stadick said this was her best season ever. Stadick said she was actually surprised at just how well her store did, and noted there were probably a few different reasons for the success.
"I think people are still discovering us; we're a great store. We really cater to younger kids and we can do anything that the big box stores do," Stadick said. "I think people are getting that shop local message, too. I think people are getting it - you have to support your local economy; you have to support your local businesses if they're going to stay here."
Considering how popular ebooks have become in recent years, Stadick is thrilled with the upward trajectory of her business. She said book sales were only down 1 percent this season as a total of all her sales, which is a strong indication that people still like the feel of an actual printed page in their hand. Stadick said toy sales were really good and helped the entire store reap sales of 30 to 35 percent more this season.
"As a percentage of our sales the physical books did not really go down hardly at all. That really does make me feel good," Stadick said. "We really cater to people who like to hold books, who like that old-fashioned feel and believe in the physicality and lasting power of books."
Stadick said just the discussion of revitalizing downtown has helped many of the businesses there. She noted parking still remains an issue, but looks forward to the revitalizing efforts having a really positive impact on everyone in the downtown community.
Stadick laughed when asked how business was doing Wednesday. Like Gourmet Chef and Margie's Art Glass Studio, Main Street Books was pretty quiet. One person who was shopping there was Elizabeth Eaton of Globe, Ariz. Eaton grew up in the area and still visits regularly to see family and friends.
Eaton said Main Street Books is always her first stop when she gets into town, after which she goes to several other downtown businesses to check out the art scene.
"It's a lot of fun, and especially with the book store because my favorite things are books," Eaton said. "I always check to see if it's still open and I'm always thrilled to see that it is, because independent bookstores are certainly struggling more than they were 20 years ago."
While it's Main Street Books that always draws Eaton to downtown Minot when she visits, she said she always tries to go downtown in any city she visits because they all have something unique to offer.
"In any town I always like to go to the downtown area because that's usually the heart, and that's where the town started," Eaton said. "There's history and the buildings."
One thing Eaton has noticed during her visits back to the Magic City is just how much things have changed. She wasn't just talking about new construction, but new people. And as any resident or business owner will tell you, the heart of downtown begins with its people.
"I tell you, the energy in this town has really changed because there's more people. And it seems to really be a youthful energy, I think. I think it's exciting," Eaton said. "And when you go to the coffee shops such as Starbucks, especially - which I hear is one of the busiest if not the busiest in the country - there's people from all over."