Loosing a coin toss, Kurt Hernon was the lucky one to open Speak of the Devil hours before the usual start time. While the bar normally opens at 5 p.m., Hernon switched on its signature neon sign from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday to join other downtown storefronts for Small Business Saturday and the first Cookie Crawl.
Shrugging off the early hour, Hernon said the event already was bringing in residents who hadn’t visited the almost year-old cocktail bar off Fifth Street and Broadway.
“There’s families bringing kids and parents who haven’t been here, and they have young kids at home and aren’t always able to get out at night. So they’ve seen it, now they get interested … and they learn about us,” he said. “People see that we have a food menu; people think we’re just a bar.”
And that was the point.
In conjunction with the national Small Business Saturday movement — started by American Express in 2010 — a dozen downtown businesses welcomed customers in for a free cookie and a chance to see Lorain in a new light.
“We’re just so happy to be part of this rebirth, this renewed attitude here,” Hernon said. “We’ve always kind of lived by the idea that if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. So that was our goal, was to change the conversation in town and along with other people who’ve done stuff, we feel like it’s changing.”
The Cookie Crawl was organized in-part by Mia Arredondo, with Jevon Terance Fashion. She said the event gives people the chance to check out stores they may have driven by or wouldn’t regularly visit — like parents going to Speak of the Devil or community members visiting Terance’s studio just blocks away.
“I think that sometimes it gives people reasons to go into stores they wouldn’t normally go in to. I think a lot of people, they may assume that Jevon’s items are maybe something you’d find somewhere more expensive, but the fact is that he is here in Lain and he wants to be here because he has a chance to travel and take his work to other places, but coming here and doing it in his hometown is really special.”
“I think the main pieces scare people because they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s already high so I’m not even going to go in there,’” he said. “So with the Cookie Crawl, you’re just already out and about, you give us a chance. You give us more of a chance than a normal day.”
At the other end of the Crawl, Carl Nielsen, of Nielsen Jewelers, finished straightening a window display inspired by the storefronts he saw in Cleveland as a child, featuring a model train with Santa at the helm and a miniature red and white Corvette ready for delivery.
Nielsen was thankful he’d bought dozens of extra cookies for the walk. At $4 a dozen, the Spectrum cookies were affordable, and he expected to go through two to three trays throughout the afternoon.
“I said, ‘Give me 10 dozen,’ not realizing what 10 dozen was,” he said. “It’s going to a good cause.”
Nielsen Jewelers is one of the oldest businesses participating in the walk, passed down from generation to generation in the city’s downtown for more than 140 years, according to the store’s website. At the other end of the spectrum, and a short walk away, was Relic Clothing III, a pop-up shop in newly opened Brew & Stew cafe.
Owner Reinaldo Contreras III said he’d been collecting vintage clothing for years now — starting with trips to flea markets with his grandmother — and this was his first time participating in Small Business Saturday.
“I’ve been starting to sell it for over a year now and running into different opportunities like Mary at Brew and Stew and Jevon across the street has just been awesome because you get the real feel of the community coming together over here in Lorain and really putting stuff together to just pick up the city and not rely on somebody who has beaucoup kind of crazy money or has to bring lawyers in the place. We’re really trying to be creative down here in what we’re doing and the pop-up shops and businesses and stuff like that — just jumping on the wave and trying to sell some clothing.”
A lifelong Lorain resident, Contreras said it’s “fulfilling” to see businesses return to downtown. His goal is to open his own storefront along the thoroughfare.
“Small Business Saturday — I think it should keep going on all over the world and keep promoting small businesses because it’s what we need,” he said.
Julie Moen, of Elyria, would agree. While a big draw for visiting Lorain on Small Business Saturday was the free cookies, she said she’s found gifts for under her Christmas tree and plans to tell her kids about some of the businesses she’s visited.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “I love to see the revitalization. I wish they would do it in Elyria, too.”
In downtown Amherst, a longtime Small Business Saturday participant Judy Recknagel, owner of Mermaid’s Tale, said her business had been busy all day.
“People need to remember that it’s the little businesses that are really the backbone of America. We’re the ones that have been — I won’t say we work harder, but we worry more than a big box store. We worry about our employees, we worry about everything.”
A main draw for her store was a Christmas tree full of Old World Christmas brand mercury glass ornaments made in Spokane, Washington. Recknagel said the tree is a tradition spanning the store’s 26-year history.
“It’s still a huge part of everybody’s Christmas, my Christmas tree,” she said. “And they’re all for sale, and we sell thousands and thousands of ornaments.”
A favorite for her this year was an orange traffic cone.
“Who doesn’t need that on their tree, right?” she laughed. “It’s a perfect Ohio thing.”
Down the street, Joni Poli, owner of Sandstone Candle Works, was participating in her second Small Business Saturday, having opened just before last year’s event. She said as a small business owner who gives to community groups and schools, the day is a chance for residents to give back.
I think this is a good day for the community to come back and support the businesses who support you,” she said. “It is a great way for people to come down — especially I think it’s a nice day out. It’s not raining, it’s not too cold, so it’s a nice day to walk around and actually see what’s downtown.”