In recent years, downtown Opelika has filled its storefronts with boutiques, specialty stores and cafes alike. As the Christmas holiday gets closer and residents buckle down on their search for the perfect gift, there’s a high probability that the area will see an increase in its usual foot traffic.
Pam Powers-Smith, director of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, said the shops downtown usually have a good turnout for Shop Small Saturday. With the Iron Bowl taking place the same day, she added that sometimes customers will come out earlier so that they can see the game on time.
This year the downtown businesses will be participating in a decorating contest, coordinated by Opelika Main Street. Voting starts Sunday on the organization’s Facebook page by liking and sharing your favorite store’s decorations. The business with the most likes and shares will be declared the winner, and will be announced during Christmas in a Railroad Town on Dec. 13.
Valerie Smith, owner of Southern Crossing boutique in downtown Opelika, says it takes her a month to put up the store’s Christmas decorations.
The vast majority of the decorations are products for sale, covering the walls from floor to ceiling and displayed on just about every flat surface. Mixed in with the seasonal items, but most certainly not forgotten, are the store’s everyday products.
“We’re trying to be an everyday store, but making things look Christmassy,” Smith explained. “A lot of people want to give everyday items as a gift, not something you’re going to use just one month out of the year.”
Smith and her family have been the owners of Southern Crossing, which has been open for almost 25 years, for the past four years. Selling home goods, along with some women’s apparel and accessories, they made the decision to open a pop-up children’s holiday store in the vacant and recently refurbished storefront next door last October.
The holiday pop-up quickly became a success, and is now a permanent addition to its flagship store. Now called All Aboard, the store sells classic baby items, children’s clothing up to size 5T and nursery décor.
“I think what makes this store so unique to people is that we have demos set up of different things,” Clayton Harris, manager of All Aboard said. “We invite children and families to actually come in and get hands-on and play.”
“There’s always an uptick at Christmas,” Heritage Gifts and Gourmet owner Barbara Patton said. “It begins in November, but with Thanksgiving being late this year, it’s going to be more crowded into December.”
In addition to charming knick knacks with both vintage and contemporary appeal, the store also stocks a variety of spices, preserves, jams, mixes and even honey from around the area. Nestled in the back of the store are a number of holiday-themed miniatures and villages, a collection maintained by the store year-round.
“I think people are looking for different products,” Patton said, “Always looking at Christmas-themed products, but they’re looking at food products, and then they’re looking at that special thing for a birthday — something different. They’re looking to see what really jumps out at them.”
Powers-Smith noted that most of the shops selling Opelika-specific merchandise, be it in honor of the city’s railroad or Opelika High School’s Bulldogs, contribute to their appeal.
“Also, the fact that some offer free gift wrap doesn’t hurt,” she added. “It’s more intimate; they get to know the owners.”