NORMAL — Holiday shoppers continued their gift hunts Saturday, this time with the mellow atmosphere and local support that came with Small Business Saturday and a push to "shop local."

Madi Zimmerman, 14, browsed handmade art in The Pod, 104 E. Beaufort St., in uptown Normal.

You get a different feel shopping at small businesses. You find so much more unique stuff,” she said. “I want to create my own business someday, so I think if I support these places now it will come back around to benefit me later.”

“While shopping online is convenient, it’s easy to forget the local impacts of that convenience,” said Jonathan Strupek, marketing and public relations manager for McLean County Chamber of Commerce.

“By shopping locally, consumers are supporting their friends and neighbors who are able to create more jobs, supporting local businesses who donate to local nonprofits, helping to fund fire and police departments that we all rely on, contributing to fixing the roads that they drive every day and even creating a unique shopping experience during this busy holiday season,” he said.

Elizabeth Aspbury, owner of Bobzbay, 419 N. Main St., Bloomington, said sales at the used book and music store usually double on Small Business Saturday.

“If you keep your money local, it stays local. Doing a majority of your Christmas gift shopping at local businesses is a no-brainer," she said. "It has gotten so much easier to shop local and that awareness needs to be spread."

Mike Doherty of Normal and Kellie Williams of Bloomington wandered through uptown Normal shops to find stocking stuffers and gifts for family.

“I like supporting small businesses because I respect the effort it takes to run a store,” said Williams.

“I enjoy the atmosphere that comes with shopping at small businesses, strolling around uptown and running into people I know,” said Doherty.

With shopping sacks swinging from their arms, Judy Rutledge of Normal popped in and out of stores with her daughters Sharri Cheli and Kristen Doherty.

“These stores have things no one else does. We’ve bought more today than we have at the mall. It’s important to support our town,” said Rutledge.

In The Garlic Press, 106-8 W. North St., Normal, the checkout line wound through the store but moved steadily while owners bustled about, helping customers hunt down the perfect gift. 

“It seems more people have caught on to the goal of Small Business Saturday and it has become much busier over the years. It’s nice that millennials are a big driving force behind it,” said Pam Locsin, Garlic Press co-owner. “It’s about staying part of your community and its culture. It’s a really nice, strong feeling.”

Jackie Deffenbaugh of Normal thumbed through greeting cards with her son Luke, 10.

“We usually skip Black Friday and just come uptown to do some local shopping,” said Deffenbaugh. “We like to support the community because we’ve lived here a long time. I prefer shopping in stores than online because it’s nice to try things on or physically hold them before you buy them.”

Luke said “it feels kinda good” to shop at small businesses.

“I like looking at the funny cards and hanging out with my mom,” he said.

Gwen Heith of Normal scored a few gifts while visiting uptown shops.

“I’ve lived here for 45 years. It’s my town, my community and I want to support it,” she said.

According to the National Retail Federation, each household will spend about $967 on holiday shopping this year. Fifty-nine percent of consumers plan to shop online while 25 percent will fulfill their shopping lists at small businesses.

Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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