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Economic concerns linger, but mom-and-pop retailers say they finally have some cheer for this holiday shopping season.Nearly half are more optimistic about holiday sales than last year, according to a new survey of 792 small retailers by online small-business community Manta. Four in 10 say they already have better sales compared with last fall.
"More than ever, the consumers in our community really seem to understand the value of shopping locally," said Jodi Black, co-owner of Conover, N.C.-based Beautiful Brains Books and Games. "We are hopeful this trend will continue through the upcoming holiday season."
Overall, holiday retail sales are expected to rise 2.8% during November and December to $465.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
That boost will come from folks like Brady Kimball of Los Angeles. She is considering bracelets and necklaces as gifts for friends — and checking them out at Meowdy, a boutique near her home.
It's vital for local retailers to lure customers such as Kimball, as holiday sales typically make up about 20% to 30% of retailers' annual sales, NRF says.
Kimball's attraction to local shopping dates back to the years she browsed the tiny shops near her hometown of Harvard, Mass.
"The relationships we developed with these local independent retailers made our shopping a more personal experience," says Kimball, 36. That, in turn, "made any gifts we got for friends and family all that more meaningful."
The thoughtfulness and personal connection associated with unique gifts are among the biggest draws for Main Street shops, says Alison Jatlow Levy, a retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon.
Independent store shoppers can find an unusual present "that has a great story behind it," says Levy, who often shops in New York City boutiques. "Local stores can add to the treasure-hunting aspect of gift shopping that the national chain stores often miss."
While many small stores have a special cachet, they typically lack the resources of their larger competitors. Stores that don't place big bulk orders miss out on hefty discounts. Smaller shops' often tighter return policies and less-convenient hours add to the challenge of competing with chains.
Small firms have to work hard for their survival. Some of their tactics for luring customers to their doors:
•Focusing on personal service. Sales and discounts are very important, with 42% of shoppers saying those are a top draw, according to the NRF. Yet, customer service is growing in importance and is one of the "vital components in consumers' decision-making processes," NRF says.
Three-quarters of the retailers surveyed by Manta said customer service helps them stand apart from chain-store competitors. But in a separate Manta survey, 38% of retailers said they aren't hiring additional holiday staff because they can't afford to.
"I keep track of what my customers like and don't like," Black says. "And I can suggest things based on those recommendations." That personal touch keeps people coming back, says Manta CEO Pamela Springer.
•Playing up community impact. Shopping at a local boutique has three times the economic impact that shopping at corporate stores does, says Frank Knapp Jr., CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
For every $100 spent in locally owned, independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures, according to small-business advocacy group The 3/50 Project.
"Shopping locally keeps the dollars that are spent in the community," says Allison Proehl, 46, of Jacksonville Beach, Fla. "Our local paper said it best: If you want a store or restaurant to survive, you have to make a conscious effort to visit those places."
•Tapping into social media. Three-fourths of small firms surveyed by Manta plan to use social media to promote their holiday offerings this year.
"Like big retailers, we see the value in leveraging social media to reach people in new ways this holiday season," says Joseph Nerkowski, owner of Holiday Lighting, an Ulby, Mich., retailer.
•Touting green practices. Independent shop owners often look to nearby artists and manufacturers for inventory, which limits transportation costs.
"Those mass-produced gifts from big-box stores come from far-off factories, then get shipped all over the world in huge trucks, boats and planes," says Becky Striepe, senior editor of Green Upgrader, an online publication about green living. "When you support local artists, you're saying no to all of those miles and keeping your money within your community at the same time."
•Offering localized merchandise. Gifts purchased from a local store can also put a stamp of the area on the item. That can mean a lot to loved ones nostalgic for their hometowns.
Marty Checkoway, owner of Firefly Jewelry and Gifts in Boston, says one such gift is an ornament with a picture of baseball stadium Fenway Park.
"What it comes down to is, it makes the experience for the gift a little more special," he says.
The Fundamentals of Himalayan Salt
A boulder emerges from darkness of a 16th century mineshaft in Pakistan and explodes into light, catching and refracting the sun in hues ranging from water-clear crystal to clematis flower pink to deep meaty red. The rough salt rocks are then hand cut by local masons into a variety of shapes, providing the foundation for extraordinary new ways to prepare and serve food.
Indeed, there are as many uses for a heavy slab of Pakistani Pink Himalayan salt as there are foods, cooking styles, whims, acts of folly, and shows of bravado. The salt’s crystal lattice has a fairly high specific energy (energy per unit of mass), so it will tend to hold any temperature you bring it to for a good while. Also, due to its lack of porosity or moisture (.026%), the salt plates can be safely heated or chilled to virtually any extreme. We have tested them from 0°F up to 900°F.
Two other considerations come into play when working with our Himalayan salt plates. Their lack of porosity means that the surface area touches your food is minimal. Compared to, say, ground up salt or naturally evaporated salt crystals, these large blocks of salt will impart only a very moderate saltiness. Second, the high quantity of trace minerals (1.2% sulfur, .4% calcium, .35% potassium, .16% magnesium, and 80 other trace minerals) impart a more mild and full taste to the salt, providing another level of flavor complexity to your food.
Himalayan Salt Block Recipe & Cooking Ideas
Armed with that knowledge, we unleash the hounds and set to. Here are just a few of our favorite uses for our Pink Himalayan Salt Plates.
a) Arrange thinly sliced Carpaccio or sashimi on a cool salt platter and serve. Watch as the food literally salt-cures while at the table, gently cooking the edges and bringing on just a smidge of mineral-rich saltiness.
b) Place a large square tile of Pakistani Himalayan salt under the broiler. Wait 30 minutes, then remove the tile with a kitchen glove. Set on trivet at table, and saute fish, meats, and veggies while your guests or family look on with awe, disbelief, and dawning admiration. While cooking, your food will take on a light saltiness. Note that The Meadow’s larger Himalayan salt tiles will often hold heat long enough for repeated grillings before needing to reheat, but that batches will be successively saltier.
c) For an out-doorsy variation on the above, place a large platter of our Himalayan salt on the backyard grill, and plank grill a fennel-and-lemon stuffed monkfish, a lime-and-ginger marinated flank steak, or a balsamic and garlic rubbed Portobello mushroom.
d) For a variation on the wilder side of the out-doorsy, do what our two boys clamor for day in, day out, day in, day out (be forewarned). Heat a large Himalayan salt platter on an outdoor gas grill (best) or an indoor gas stove (use extreme caution). Lightly butter the salt platter, toss on firm bananas, grill 20 seconds on each side. Turn off the grill (important), douse with grappa or bourbon, ignite with a long match, and watch the flambé! Blow out last flames and serve with scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.Barely salted and seductively caramelized, the bananas spring to life against the cool silken contrast of the ice cream.
e) Freeze your plank or plate for two hours. Remove, and plate up scoops of ice cream or sorbet. More fun yet, warm lightly whipped sweet heavy cream, egg, honey, and aged bitters, and refrigerate. Remove the salt slab from freezer, pour mixture on it, slowly lufting with spatula, for a salt-tinged ice custard you will not soon forget.
f) Impress your Jewish grandma with Gravlax. Thaw a filet of commercially frozen (for health reasons) salmon, roll in sugar and minced dill, arrange on a Himalayan salt plate, cover with a heavy brick of Himalayan salt, wrap in paper bag and refrigerate for three days, slice, serve with crème fraîche and melba toast or just eat!
g) Getting back to basics, just use it as a serving platter for butter, cheeses, dried meats, or your daily does of pickled ginger and wasabe. When used as a plate for moist food such as apple slices and mozzarella, the food acquires an enhanced salt and mineral flavoring. One of ours serves as our regular butter dish.
h) If panache is what it takes to brighten the musty corners of your soul, try serving up an entire meal using large round or square Himalayan salt plates. Moist foods take on a touch of saltiness, dry foods do not, and everything glows with the otherworldly power of the ancient world (see Ogling below).i) Place our larger platters of the Himalayan salt on the rack of your oven, preheat, and then bake bread, pizza, and savory pastries.
Explore Cape Cod Kayak Tours
A Cat Boat plying the sheltered waters of Pleasant Bay. A guided kayak excursion in Nauset Marsh. A sleek pleasure yacht anchored off the Elizabeth Islands. An offshore fishing boat steaming to the canyons. Boating on the waters that surround Cape Cod is why many visit, and why many stay. The boating industry is one of the economic mainstays on Cape Cod and has been at the heart of the Cape's economy for hundreds of years.
Area charter and tour boat companies transport hundreds of thousands of visitors out onto our waters each year for fishing, sightseeing, swimming and relaxation. Cape Cod marinas host scores of visiting yachtsmen and provide water access to countless recreational boaters from all over southeastern New England. Whether you are looking for a sailboat to charter for the day or a 50-foot fishing boat to purchase, Cape Cod will float your boat.