Jest For Fun
Joke Shop owner Jeffrey Campbell, right, shows regular customer
Trever Hoelzer, 13, how to do a card magic trick. Campbell said
customers are recognizing the importance of investing in the
local economy by supporting local merchants.
Jest For Fun Joke Shop owner Jeffrey Campbell pointed to his
longtime customer playing cards with two teenage boys in his store
on Friday afternoon to highlight the difference between his shop and
“You see them playing card magic, that’s important — you come in
here and it’s family,” Campbell said.
It may be intangible, but fostering the kind of environment where
customers befriend one another is what sets him apart, he said.
Campbell is one of several downtown store owners to acknowledge
that, while small brick-and-mortar stores faced stiff competition
this holiday season, those kinds of intangibles helped them enjoy a
profitable fourth quarter.
Waukesha’s Downtown Business Association President and Martha
Merrell’s Books owner Norm Bruce said initiatives like the annual
Silver Bells program this year encouraged more people to stay
downtown and shop at independently- owned businesses, rather than
online and bigbox stores.
While smaller shops cannot compete with their larger competitors on
days like Black Friday, Bruce noted that when customers want a more
enjoyable shopping experience, they think small.
After being in business for 21 years, Bruce said, he has established
strong relationships with his customers.
“I know if John Sanford comes out with a new book, I should save
three copies for three customers,” Bruce said. “That’s the customer
service you will find downtown. You get to talk to the owner.”
He said customers are recognizing the importance of investing in the
local economy by patronizing local businesses.
“They will say, ‘I’ve waited to come to you to
buy a book’ or ‘I will wait for you to order a book,’” he said.
“People say, ‘if I can give you the business, I want to do that
first.’” Sales were up at Jest For Fun Joke Store. Campbell said the
store benefited from a recent increase in the popularity of magic,
thanks to an increase in TV and online programs featuring it.
While customers often turn to online stores to
get started in magic, he said when they want to advance in the
hobby, they need in-person assistance.
“Online sales for magic may exceed my sales here
dollar-wise, but then you get the people that come in here and say,
‘They couldn’t help us.’ So personal service is big,” Campbell said.
Jody Schuenke, owner of Metropolitan Antiques on
West Main Street, said there was an overall increase in foot traffic
downtown this year. Tourism in the summer and the downtown’s holiday
atmosphere in the winter made for good business. Schuenke also
recently expanded and added another storefront, which helped
“This whole year has been good,” she said.
“Sales were definitely up.”
see people worried about the bottom dollar’
Restyle Studios owner Michelle Miltello painted
a bleaker picture, however. She said sales were down by about 30
percent this holiday season over last.
“This past Christmas was slow and this Christmas
was worse,” Miltello said.
While the customers of her home decor and
clothing consignment boutique say they enjoy the atmosphere and
personalized customer service, Miltello said she just can’t compete
with online and larger retailers.
“I’ll overhear people whisper, ‘I know you can
get that cheaper at Hobby Lobby,’ and others say, “Order it online,
there’s free shipping and you’ll get it cheaper,” she said. “A small
business can’t compete with that.”
Miltello also noted that, while reports indicate
the economy is improving, she hasn’t seen it affect customers’
willingness to spend money.
“I still see people worried about the bottom
dollar,” she said. In addition to offering sales and promoting
products on Facebook, Miltello plans to add an online component to
her store in January in hopes of increasing sales. She also is
trying to help customers see the importance of supporting local
“If you enjoy the experience of getting to see,
feel, and touch things — and the camaraderie of the downtown — then
you have to support your local businesses or they’re going to go
away,” she said.
shopping versus efficiency
Noting the effect online retailers and e-readers
have had on book store sales, Bruce said customers still choose an
enjoyable shopping experience over efficiency.
“People don’t buy as many informational books
anymore because they can go Google it or find a book on Kindle,”he
said. “But when they come for pleasure, they want to read, they come
Campbell is also confident that high-quality
service will allow smaller stores to retain a loyal customer base.
“If you look at the real key stores downtown,
we’ve been here a long time and we’re here because we offer a
service, not just a product,” he said.
As Campbell described his store’s welcoming
environment, 15-year-old Seth Rice, a regular customer, took a break
from his card game to weigh in.
“I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t come
here,” Rice said. “It’s great.”