Lisa Truelove was not about to let a little rain get between her and some early holiday shopping Friday morning.
Waiting for the Ashland designer clothing store Red's Threads to open, Truelove said she had heard about a Black Friday rollback sale the store was holding, and was not going to miss out.
"I came for the sales," she said. "I was in Medford earlier, at Target and Walmart, but people had been there since 5 a.m."
Black Friday marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Stores around the country traditionally open their doors early in the morning, while others offer enticing sales in the hopes of drawing new customers.
Truelove was one of a handful of sale-hungry shoppers, braving Friday morning rain and hunting for holiday deals on the plaza downtown.
"I'm looking for clothes for my whole family," Truelove said. "And maybe a dress for myself."
Some large retail stores in Medford opened their doors as early as 2 a.m. Friday morning. But Ashland, with its smaller, family-owned businesses, relies less heavily on the holiday shopping season to make a profit than most towns.
Ken Silverman, owner of the formal wear store Nimbus Enterprises, says summer, not winter, is the season he considers "make or break."
"Shopping during the Christmas season is a lot like the weather," Silverman said. "There's not much you can do about it."
Lin Mattson owns Small Change Children's Store downtown. Like Silverman, Mattson does not believe the winter shopping season will factor as largely into her revenue as other months do.
"As far as the holiday season, I think people are going to choose for themselves where they go," she said. "We're just getting ready for however many (shoppers) we see."
Afternoon reports from global news services Reuters and The Associated Press hinted at a more fruitful shopping day than in 2008, which ranked among the least prosperous Black Fridays in decades.
This year, most Ashland sidewalks were sparsely populated at 9 a.m., when many stores opened for business. An hour later, shoppers were starting to arrive, though not in the same numbers as previous years, by Ashland resident Janet Bivens' estimation.
"I've lived in Ashland for 27 years, and I know I've seen far more activity on the streets," Bivens said of past Black Fridays. But, she added, "It could just be the rain."
Katharine Flanagan with the Ashland Chamber of Commerce says the 350,000 tourists who flock to Ashland each summer create a unique, if slightly unbalanced, shopping schedule throughout town, in which winter figures are often overshadowed by summer profits.
"I think what we have is a duality going on," Flanagan said. "What happens in the summertime is that many stores cater to the shopping visitors, while they're here."
The tourist influx is often so pronounced that it keeps local stores in the black through winter. Still, Flanagan said she is "cautiously optimistic" this holiday season will be a profitable one for local businesses.
"What makes the holiday shopping season in Ashland unique is the personal relationships merchants have with their customers," she said.
Conny Shadle, owner of the downtown children's store Bug A Boo, shares Flanagan's optimism. Though she says she isn't planning any particular holiday sales this year, the sales she has already made are proof of the store's success, and are sufficient business to tide her over.
"We are very hopeful. But we've already had a pretty good year," Shadle said. "I think Ashland people just have a way of supporting Ashland businesses."
Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.