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Bring joy from just down the street
Shop Monroe’s small businesses this holiday season
A warm sun bathed the square Monday, as businesses downtown prepared for the bustling shopping season and urged area residents to shop local for more of their gifts, clothing, food items and decorations this year. - photo by Gary Mays

MONROE — Local small businesses are ready to serve customers this holiday season. With a wide variety of goods and services — as well as a number of holiday promotions — local shops are looking forward to this year’s Small Business Saturday.

Jocelyn Kline began Orange Kitten Yarns 10 years ago after retiring from Monroe’s senior center. She learned to knit as a 9-year-old Girl Scout and, while it began as a hobby, says knitting is now “more of a way of life.” 

Orange Kitten Yarns also placed Kline into the growing group of women over age 50 who are starting their own businesses. 

After a stint in a storefront by Turner Hall, Kline said Main Street Monroe was instrumental in helping her find a bigger location on the square. 

“I think it gives people kind of a lift in the winter, to come in, look around and see the beautiful yarn and all of the colors in the shop,” she said.

The passion project has now become a successful local business. In addition to being known for carrying specialty knitting items, Kline also goes out of her way to carry goods from local producers and creators, from fibers and pet accessories to soaps and locally grown maple syrup. It’s that reciprocal support — with local vendors and with other small businesses in the area — that she said makes Monroe special. 

“In a small shop you get a friendly hello when you come in, you get help with your project,” said Kline. “And I know that the shops around the square are more than helpful — if people are asking for something and they don’t have it, they know where to send you to get it.” 

Melissa Even, executive director of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, echoes that sentiment. The pandemic brought more awareness, she said, to the concept of “my neighbor is my business owner.” 

The Chamber also runs the Monroe Money program, where individuals can purchase Monroe Money (similar to a gift card) in any denomination valid for more than 300 local businesses and organizations. The certificates are good for 12 months.

During the holiday season, anyone purchasing $100 of Monroe Money will get an additional $20 through the current promotion.

When asked what makes Monroe’s small business economy work, Even credited the residents of Monroe. 

“We really have a dedicated population that really wants to see their neighbors, friends and family be successful,” she said. “We’ve got great business owners that care about the community and it goes both ways.”

Jordan Nordby, director of Main Street Monroe, says 2022 marks several years in a row that Monroe has been recognized by American Express as a national partner for Shop Small Saturday. 

Main Street Monroe is locally funded, partly through the business improvement district, partly by the city, and the remaining funds from sponsorship or direct donation. Downtown business owners have access to workshops with social media, retail and restaurant consultants, among other resources, at no cost to them. 

Thirty-seven shops also participate in Main Street Monroe’s retail promotion, running from Nov. 15 through the end of 2022. 

“We do a stamp card where if you spend $10 or more at ten different businesses, you’re entered for weekly and then grand prize giveaways,” said Nordby. “The grand prize giveaways will total $2,500 and then the weekly prizes are like gift baskets or items put together by the participating shops.”

In addition to Shop Small Saturday, Nordby wants to remind shoppers that many local businesses are also open for extended hours — and possibly special promotions — during the entire Black Friday weekend. 

Main Street Monroe also hosts “late night shopping” on the first Thursday of every month, with December’s being a holiday open house.

“I would really just want to give a ton of credit to the stores,” said Nordby. “You get to hear from the owner who’s purchasing the merchandise, why they selected this option and what specifically they like about it. We get that customer service that is lacking in a lot of places — and definitely when you’re shopping online.”

Busy Bee, a floral and gift shop, opened their brick-and-mortar local on Monroe’s square in 2020 with help from Main Street Monroe and their “Project Pop Up.”

Debbie Hillary, owner of Busy Bee … “Local business is the heartbeat and lifeblood of a thriving community because we offer a unique experience that can’t be replicated in any other town,” she said. “When a community spends their hard working money on their own community, it helps cultivate that culture and unity that makes a town thrive.”

Busy Bee offers fresh floral arrangements and live plants, as well as a gift shop selling goods like candles, wreaths, home decor and more. The shop also carries locally-grown poinsettias and customizable Christmas wreaths during the holiday season. Hillary describes her shop as a “bright, happy, joyful and comforting” space. 

“I have so much respect for small business owners because the amount blood, sweat and tears that go into making a profitable business is no joke,” said Hillary. “No one will give you better service than someone whose livelihood depends on your business, and I believe they will work hard to earn your respect and repeat business like no other.”

Stacy Hill opened Toy Haus with her husband in 2015. She feels that shopping locally is the heart of a community. 

“All year long, we help support the community as the community comes in to help support small businesses. We’re really intertwined,” she said. 

Toy Haus, an independent toy store on the square, carries children’s toys for all ages. Hill said they focus on items that help promote “imagination, education and creativity.” They’ve brought in a number of new items, including Squishmallows, Calico Critters, Magna-Tiles and Legos. The shop — and it’s youngest customers — looks forward to Shop Small Saturday each year.

The shop provides gift-wrapping services year-round and is open seven days a week during the holiday season. Toy Haus, like many other local businesses, participates in Main Street Monroe’s holiday retail promotion. 

“For weeks before, kids come in to show their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends what they would like for Christmas,” said Hill. “We always strive to help everyone find that special gift for a child.”