DAYTON — Black Friday seemed to have a different meaning in this town of 2,500 people, one that seemed more concerned with the people and less with sales.
"The goal is to bring people to our community to have a very fun old-fashion type of Christmas, away from the hustle and bustle of the high-stress, go-crazy shopping Black Friday," said Lisa Ronnberg, executive director of the Dayton Chamber of Commerce.
Every year the Chamber organizes a weekend of extended merchant hours, arts and craft sales, hot cider, cookies, wagon rides, visits with Santa and entertainment, all for free, as part of the city’s annual Christmas Kickoff.
But sales still are a concern, and Ronnberg added that for some merchants, this weekend is often their best weekend of the year.
Over at the Village Shoppe, a conglomerate of more than 30 consignment stores, Black Friday and Saturday were a little slower than usual. But that didn’t effect the price of the jaw breakers, which go for a "please" and a "thank you," said owner Candy Jones.
"We were a little down, but I think we had more people. I think they just bought more smaller things," Jones said.
Right about then, a boy of about 8 walked up to the counter with a kazoo that sold for $2.25.
"All I got is a dollar coin and a rock," the boy told Jones.
Jones, who kept a serious look on her face, said, "Let me see what you have."
Sure enough, it was a plain old river rock, lighter in color and marbled with specks of grayish blue. The type that could hold value only to a boy of about 8. And right next to it in the small palm was a Sacagawea dollar coin.
Jones took the coin and left the boy with the rock and kazoo.
Less than a minute later, the boy’s mother showed up trying to pay the difference.
"Nope. We got a deal," Jones repeated to her.
A little later, Jones explained how she had lived in Los Angeles at one point, and when she returned to Dayton years later she was surprised that her personal credit accounts were still honored by local merchants. Now she won’t spend Christmas anywhere else.
"I came back here because it is like it was 60 years ago ... I love it because it is so old-fashioned," she said.
That seemed to be the theme of Dayton’s Black Friday and Saturday.
"It’s more relaxed, a little more nostalgic," Mary Jensen said, as she browsed through Dingle’s of Dayton, along with Rosalie Anderson.
"Five years ago a friend who lives in Dayton had me come up, and now every year I come up," Anderson said, taking a breather from shopping and laughing. "You know there are just interesting things here that you don’t find in a big box stores."
Dingle’s owner Mindy Betzler, who took over the 89-year-old hardware store six years ago, described Christmas Kickoff as a fun weekend, where she and the family get together to decorate the old travel trailer for the town’s light parade, which is followed by a fireworks show.
"Kickoff is wonderful. It is a fun weekend. We get to see lots of outsiders and lots of people from town," she said.
And as her grandchildren played beside her, she patiently flinched at their boisterous running about her store, trying to calm herself and them.
"We don’t have a lot of extra activities around. So it’s the simple pleasures," she said, which was followed by a well timed hug from a granddaughter.
Still, sales are important. This year Dingle’s expanded its toy section to help cash in on more Christmas sales.
Over at the Historical Dayton Depot, they aren’t as dependent on Christmas sales, but they still kept track of business.
"We did pretty well yesterday (Friday). I won’t say it was in the thousands of dollars, but we had a pretty good stream of people," said board member Mary Laughery.
Just outside the train depot, Kate and Belle also saw a steady stream of customers. The two mules were busy hauling kids around in a wagon.
The mules are owned by Dough Krueger, who eight years ago built a wagon and started pulling people around town for free.
"They (the kids) love listening to the bells and watching their hooves, and to know their names," said Beth Pruiett, Krueger’s daughter, who was helping load the wagon.
Pruiett noted that even with Friday’s bad weather, Kate and Belle were still hauling loads of up to 15 kids and parents for 15 minutes trots across town.
New to this year’s Christmas Kickoff was a warm and cozy building for street merchants, who previously sold on the sidewalks.
"It is a lot warmer than having to be out on the sidewalk like last year. I didn’t have to wear my long underwear this year," joked Margie Byrd, while standing in front of her table of crocheted hats, scarves and other items.
Like most merchants, her Black Friday was a slower one, but that’s OK because the rent was cheap. The Chamber provided the indoor arts and craft facility for free.
A few stalls down, John and Marylou Bryan set up their booth at Christmas Kickoff for the first time. The husband and wife team make hand-crafted birdhouses that sell for up to $100. They usually sell 30 to 40 at art shows. As of Saturday afternoon, they had sold five, which was OK.
"We did it to get to know the community better," Marylou said, noting that they moved here from Olympia a couple years ago. "It has been a lot of fun. We love this community."
Even though Black Friday sales may have not netted merchants as much as they wanted, the payoff for Christmas Kickoff was big in other ways.
"For us, it is the nostalgia of an old-time Christmas in a small community. It is what people have in their mind when they think that they want to go home to a small town, that is the type of Christmas we have here," Ronnberg said.