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Shop Elkhart a success

ELKHART, Ind. – Downtown was busy Thursday afternoon, stores were full and parking spots were hard to come by.

“People are just coming around to value small business, local business,” Danny Reynolds said. He and his family own and operate Stephenson’s on Main Street; the shop has been there for eighty years.

“This store has been through a lot of economic times, you know this store opened during the great depression,” Reynolds said. “So we always remind the staff if they could make it through that we could get through a recession.”

But it hasn’t been easy keeping the women’s fashion store open all those years, “Business has been tough out there across the board, especially in clothing,” Reynolds said.

So he and his family had to find innovative ways to reevaluate their business and come up with new ways to bring in customers.

“Obviously we got right on board,” Reynolds said of the “Shop Elkart” program.

More than five hundred and fifty locally owned businesses are registered on the “Shop Elkhart” website. The initiative is meant to promote local businesses dto promote local stores, to keep shoppers and their money in the city.

“If you got to shop you better stay local, it’s the way to go,” Gwin Bontrager said as he looked through the merchandise inside the store.

Bontrager of Nappanee had circle the block a few times before he could start his shopping spree, but he said he didn’t mind all the traffic, “Yea, the number of cars downtown is nice.”

“It’s what good for us and what’s good for the local economy,” Bontrager said he used to shop for his wife online, then he found a store in town that had everything he needed.

“It’s been my staple, my rock,” Bontrager said of Stephenson’s.

“Shop Elkhart” has brought new customers in to buy things from stores they didn’t even know were in the city.

Reynolds said, “I’m always surprised that daily people come in and say ‘I’ve never been here before’ after 80 years.”

Compared to last year, Decemeber sales have already shot up 20-percent, “This year, probably our best sales increase,” Reynolds said.

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