By DAVID B. SNOW, The Paducah Sun

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) — The turnout for Small Business Saturday in downtown Paducah was telling for those who follow local business and the local economy.

Paducah Main Street is an organization that works toward revitalization and is concerned with the management of downtown and neighborhood commercial districts. Its director, Katie Axt, said the “No Place Like Local for the Holidays” Small Business Saturday event was a great success.

“It was great; it was so much fun,” she said. “We had the best turnout in the history of us doing Small Business Saturday. It was wonderful to see people out in the shops, shops full, families on the street, restaurants bustling — it was just a very, very good day for us.”

Axt said Paducah has taken part in Small Business Saturday since it began in 2011.

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Mayor George Bray said the turnout was encouraging on many points.

“Downtown was packed,” he said. “My wife and I went down and shopped and got around and tried to see a lot of stores.

“We were probably in 10 different stores. We talked to shop owners, and we went into a couple of stores, and it was just packed. You couldn’t stir ’em with a stick. I thought that was good.”

Axt said there were lines of people in stores and some restaurants even ran out of food. There were other things to see and do downtown besides shop for presents.

“On the gazebo corner, our Dickens of a Corner, it was bustling with carolers and people waiting to see Santa and take a historic carriage ride or have a s’more,” Axt said. “It was just a really great blend of family activities to get into the holiday spirit and frequent our local businesses in supporting them by shopping local.”

Bray said having so many people out shopping validates the concept behind Small Business Saturday.

“The last 18 months have been tough because of the pandemic,” he said. “Tough on small business, and all you hear about is Amazon and the billions of dollars that they make.

“This validates that, No. 1, people want to shop locally, and No. 2, when they do shop locally, it makes a really big impact on the local economy. It’s a way of supporting our small businesses and making sure that all of that’s viable.”

Bray said his perspective of the turnout Saturday was a positive one, adding he anticipates this kind of turnout once the COVID-19 pandemic abates.

“If we get more people vaccinated and get more people feeling safe — there is pent-up demand; people want to get out,” he said. “That’s for sure. I am absolutely encouraged by the turnout from Small Business Saturday.”

Axt said last Saturday was a “return to normal” in time for the holidays.

“Our local businesses have done well, considering COVID and the pandemic, but this was kind of a return to normal,” she said. “People were just excited to be together and be out. It was heart-warming.

“We are seeing momentum downtown, seeing downtown grow. We had 13 businesses open this year. That is on the heels of 20 businesses opening last year. I think the word is out that downtown is the best place in western Kentucky to open a small business.”

One business that had a successful weekend was Wildhair Studios Rock Shop at 311 Broadway St. Co-owner Susan Edwards said her business set sales records on Saturday.

“We had the biggest sales day we have had in the history of us being in business — and we’ve been in business almost seven years,” she said. “We’re a retailer, and we sell very esoteric goods. We have crystals, candles, incense, natural stone jewelry, books — it’s a metaphysical store.”

Edwards said there were people waiting at the door when she opened Saturday morning and the business was nonstop, going beyond the 6 p.m. closing time.

“It was just wild,” she said, “and all of downtown was really humming. It wasn’t just us. We did extremely well, but there was a lot of people downtown.”

Edwards said there were a number of people dressed in 19th century outfits for the Dickens-style features of the day. Some of the costumed people were caroling, and the Grinch also took a stroll through downtown Paducah.

The John Pass Carriage Company with Char Diesel provided free carriage rides through town.

Axt said there are more Paducah Main Street events coming up in December that can be found online at paducahmainstreet.org. Among those free events are:

• Downtown Happy Hour, 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Riverfront at Broadway Street and Kentucky Avenue.

• Candy Cane Hunt, 11:45 a.m. Saturday, National Quilt Museum, 215 Jefferson St.

• Paducah Christmas Parade, 5 p.m. Saturday, Broadway Street from 14th Street to Second Street.

Axt said the success of events like Small Business Saturday help the downtown business district thrive.

“Money follows money,” she said. “When you see your neighbors and others investing and building businesses and redeveloping properties, that attracts other investment.

“We need to just continue to try to build on that growth and encourage people to come and see what’s new downtown.”

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