My daughter has come home for a visit and just returned from a short walk to Dunsmuir’s small downtown area. She was delighted to find a store open for shopping on Sunday afternoon. She purchased cards and several small gift items, and spent a few minutes chatting with the owners about the best places to go blackberry picking. Having Sunday hours is a real commitment for Cindy, who is in her shop most other days of the week too.
For rural communities adding tourism to their economic mix, shifting business hours and days open to accommodate visitors is a real challenge.
Most restaurants and stores in small towns are run by their owners, and days closed means time for them to catch up on bookkeeping, rest and family. The question is how to schedule those days to capture a good mix of local and visitor business. Here’s some ideas from rural businesses I’ve worked with.
1. If you want visitor business, be open when visitors are in town. I can’t tell you how many small towns I’ve consulted with that work hard to attract visitors only to roll up their sidewalks on Sunday.
2. It’s nice when restaurants in towns with a limited number of eating options stagger their days closed. This kind of collaboration among supposed competitors helps everyone. All are open on big visitor days, and each is open on a number of the slower weekdays.
3. During the tourism high season, evening hours at least once a week in your shopping district is good for everyone’s business. People have something to do before and after dining, and shopping becomes the evening’s entertainment. Many small towns are scheduling regular monthly or quarterly art walks, when stores and restaurants display the work of local artists.
4. Be open on Sunday at least in the afternoon.
5. For retail shops, look at your sales in the morning hours and in the evening when you stay open late. If you’re doing better during those evening hours then you are doing in the morning, consider opening later in the morning and staying open later in the evening.
6. Allow yourself to change your hours seasonally. Use your sales figures to determine your hours, not habit.
7. Because most small town retail businesses and restaurants are run by their owners who are there almost everyday, quality of life is a major factor in setting days off and store hours. But reaching a quality of life balance may not mean closing up shop. It might mean paying a trusted worker for a few more hours a week to manage the store, knowing that over time those costs will be more than covered by the increased business.