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Written by Isaac Kreider   

Like the citizens of Holyoke, some new businesses have come into town, and several long-standing establishments remain in place. As a “city of pride and progress,” Holyoke has created an economy that is diverse and supportive of its citizens.

There are some unique niche stores and ones that are the sole providers of their products and services. Holyoke’s business sector is also home to lots of pairs — two implement companies, two pharmacies, two liquor stores, two Hispanic mercantiles, two bakery cafés, two chiropractic clinics, two convenience stores. There are multiple hardware/general stores and auto service shops and a handful of salons.

“I feel very lucky to be in this community,” said Jody Fiscus, owner of The Oak Tree. “It has supported my business well, and I have always enjoyed having my store open here.”

Of course, it is the people that make the community what it is and dictate the strength of the economy. By shopping locally, the citizens of a city have the ability to bolster the businesses and the livelihoods of their friends and neighbors.

Even on a cold Monday morning, downtown Holyoke is bustling with activity. With the holiday season quickly approaching, business owners are encouraging citizens to shop in town and help invigorate the local economy.­­  

—Enterprise photo

“There are wonderful stories around here and so many good people,” said Carolyn Koberstein of Scheunemann’s Department Store. “There’s goodness every day. Sometimes, my best customers are the ones who come in just to chat.”

Doug Schelling, owner of Smith Wholesale Hardware, said he believes Holyoke is doing well compared to many other small towns.

“There’s a lot going on all around this area, but it would be better if more people sourced their materials locally,” Schelling said. “We’re as busy as we want to be, but we pull a lot of business from out of town too.”

Holyoke has always been the strong seat of Phillips County, but there are also several empty storefronts, and economic uncertainty is felt by local business owners.

“It would be nice to see a few other unique and different businesses start up — ones that would help keep more people in town,” said Tim Bartels, owner of Holyoke General Store. “It can be hard to compete with some of the big stores elsewhere, but I give this town a lot of credit for the support it has given us so far.”

Holyoke General is a younger addition to the community, but others have been conducting business for decades and have taken notice of the changes that have occurred.

“Business has always been pretty steady,” said Chip Scheunemann, owner of Scheunemann’s Department Store. “But it’s not quite what it was. Free spending has fallen a little flat over the last several years.”

Others, along with Scheunemann, described how generational changes have impacted their businesses.

“Economies are hurting everywhere,” said Julie Dirks, owner of The Flower Garden. “The dynamics of a business like this change from year to year, but shopping locally real­ly does have many benefits.”

Dirks noted how sales have fluctuated over the years for certain holidays and year-round as well.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch peers over the rooftop of the Flower Garden, eager to share his holiday cheer with the Holyoke community.  

—Enterprise photo

“It can be interesting and fun to watch the different generations do business,” she said. “But the younger ones especially are spending less money in lots of markets.”

Many business owners reciprocated this understanding that some years won’t be as big as others, and they recognize the economic struggles consumers face.

“The whole dynamics of retail in these small market areas has changed,” Fiscus said.

“We haven’t ever had it quite like the last year and a half, but it hasn’t been hard enough to significantly impact the way we operate.”

Fiscus acknowledged that some of the impact can be caused by changes at the governmental level, such as when prices for gas and food rise, or when people anticipate these rises in costs.

“Someone has to take a hit, and unfortunately it’s usually small businesses,” Fiscus said. “But I believe business will increase again soon.”

That kind of optimism is an integral part of keeping a business running no matter how the economy shifts.

A sign in the window of The Oak Tree encourages community members to “Work Local, Live Local, Shop Local.” During the holiday season, this is an easy way for people to show their support for their hometown.

—Enterprise photo

“The one constant is change,” Scheunemann said. “We have a nice city that always endures. It just needs some kind of economic boost to encourage others to come to town also.”

Dirks said she believes the late harvest season has contributed to business being slow and quiet lately, but she also expects business to pick up during the holiday season.

“Country Christmas shows great support of local businesses and is such a fun community event,” she said. “It’s always a great kickoff for the holidays.”

Bartels said he, like other business owners in town, is willing to work with customers where he can. With Christmas still several weeks away, there is plenty of time to find that right gift for friends and family.

“If people plan ahead for the holidays, we can special order items,” Bartels said. “We try to have competitive pricing here, and I’ve heard from several customers that we have been right in line with others in bigger cities.”

To truly be a city of pride and progress, the citizens of Holyoke must be willing to support the businesses that operate here and depend on them to continue and thrive.

If someone hears or receives a challenge to shop locally — particularly this fast-approaching holiday season — it might be more important than ever and something that can really make a difference, for one business or even an entire city.