Holiday shoppers descend to occupy Ashland

Ashland was packed with shoppers and sightseers on balmy Black Friday, its credit-card-swiping machines getting a workout from people who said they came for the cheer, charm, fun and handcrafted wares.

"It's the unique stuff, handcrafted, and you get to know some of the artists," said Stephanie Peterson, stopping in front of Paddington Station downtown. "I got a book for my son and locally homemade toffee from Recession Candy."

Small towns such as Ashland and Jacksonville hope to draw shoppers looking for that certain something you can't find anywhere else. Ashland kicked off its season with Friday night's Festival of Light, where more than a million downtown lights were flipped on all at once by Santa on the balcony of Alex's Plaza Restaurant after a Main Street parade.

Jacksonville begins its holiday season with a parade and tree-lighting ceremony the first weekend in December. The parade starts at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, down California Street.

Many shoppers, such as Lisa Downey of San Jose, Calif., were visiting family over Thanksgiving.

"We shot into Medford for all the early morning deals but it's great to be back in Ashland," Downey said. "It's so charming and there are more specialty items.

"The window displays are beautiful, and it's wonderful to just walk the town, especially on a sunny day like this."

"You find a lot more unique things in Ashland," said Grace Lee of San Jose. "You can go to a mall in any city and find all the same stuff as in the next town."

"We shop Ashland because it's quaint, local and small-town," said Marla Smith of Lake Oswego, who was in Ashland visiting family.

Tammy Teske of Portland said Ashland is "the only place I would shop. If it supports Ashland, I will do Black Friday. I pick up things like stationery, garden supplies. I'll do anything I can to avoid malls. If there's some merchandise I need, I get it online. I get overwhelmed by evident materialism. I'm comfortable walking the street and popping in little shops, even if I spend more."

Vivian Engleson of Talent said she likes strolling Ashland but because she has such a big family, her relatives skip the gifts and just do a big dinner.

Longtime resident Karen Harris said she shops Ashland because "it's distinctive and supports our community."

"I like to gift experiences, like massages, pedicures or tickets to events," she said. "We don't need a lot of stuff. What we need is community and something to do together."

Harris' friend R'Delle Anderson, who was visiting from Trinidad, Calif., said, "I always shop when I come to Ashland. Here, there's lots of original art and things we can't find in our town."

Black Friday marks the day when retail business is supposed to go "in the black" for the year — that is, finally make a profit during the yuletide shopping weeks.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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