During this economic recession, Glen Ellyn merchants need every trick in the book to entice shoppers. Some are finding local solutions in the form of area artists.
These artisans create handmade jewelry, paintings and photography and independent stores owners have been making space for them. This gives these businesses a sort of retail expansion, selling beyond what they normally offer. They are also turning to the Internet for more exposure.
Businesses like Bundles of Books & Gifts, 560 Crescent Blvd., found a home for several crafters to showcase their work. Husband and wife owners John Knight and Rosemary Arellano own the four-year-old store which sells used books and gift items by local artists.
Because of space vacated by other store owners, the couple gradually expanded in the building's first and second floors which houses 46,000 books, a reading room and comfortable seating areas with refreshments. Word of mouth also helped bring in clientele. Arellano explained that she and her husband see their biggest sales in the summer compared to the period between October and December.
An idea to boost holiday sales came after Arellano talked with a local crafter and customer. The concept was to provide space for local crafters to sell their pieces. This year, the couple took out 3,000 books from the reading room and transformed it into a temporary "Holiday House" which opened in October and will run until the end of December.
Inside are handstitched wool ornaments handing from small Christmas trees, cheery table linens, knitted sweaters and items made with hand-dyed and hand-painted yarn. Away from the room is a glass case filled with wood-lathed turned bowls and vases.
Unsure of the outcome, the room has been a good attraction.
"What we have noticed is that our sales have increased tremendously for this quarter because people were so excited to see what this new Holiday House was all about," Arellano said. "We're going to do it again next year."
Arellano hopes this concept will spin off into its own business where artists sell pieces that can incorporate other holidays.
"Then that will be another business that Glen Ellyn can have that is unique and fits in with the whole atmosphere that Glen Ellyn is about: Local people buy from local talent," she said. "That's what we push here all the time."
While custom framing, antique frames and oil painting restoration are specialty services at the 15-year-old Renaissance Art Studio, 481 N. Main St., it has also tapped into local talent. Throughout the years, owner Jessica Pekny added other items such as imprintable party invitations and calligraphy done on a special computerized lettering bed.
All those services combined, Pekny found, were not enough to get people to come. In the last five years, she added pashminas as well as prints and posters. What has attracted customers are pictures taken by local photographers, note cards, prints of images and a calendar created by a local watercolor artist.
"People love anything that has to do with Glen Ellyn," Pekny said. "I've been trying to capitalize on that idea and getting many different things in as I can. People would come by the store and poke their heads in and think 'Oh, this is just a frame shop.' That would irritate me. What I've been trying to say to people is that 'We're not your ordinary frame shop.'"
Pekny also sells about eight lines of handmade jewelry done by area artisans as well as those from Guatemala and Israel.
"That's worked out really well," she said. "People are starting to come in for the jewelry which is nice. Then they realize that we also do framing."
Not only do business owners make local investments, but they are also advertising in cyberspace. Janie Patch, executive director of Glen Ellyn Economic Development Corporation, knows how social tools such as Facebook and Twitter are valuable.
"Social media marketing is critical today," she said. "The EDC has been supporting business owners with EDC-sponsored Facebook and Twitter sites."
Recently, the corporation has invited owners to its hands-on, progressive workshop series where they learn to create Facebook and Twitter accounts and how those tools can apply to their business marketing plans.
"For some business owners, it was their first time learning about social media," she said. "Others who have already work with these tools wanted to know more."
Whatever the method, Glen Ellyn business owners know you need to try a lot of different things first and see what works.