Downtown shops provide culture, community opportunities

Riley Jantzen, co-owner at The Felt Bird, works at his business on Feb. 21. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

When you think of economic development, small boutique shops in historic storefronts may not come to mind. But a walk around Enid’s downtown Square reveals one of the greatest drivers in Oklahoma’s economy: small, locally owned businesses.

U.S. Small Business Administration reports in 2018 Oklahoma’s more-than 347,000 small businesses provided almost 713,000 jobs, and more than 200,000 of those jobs were in businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

Main Street Enid Director Kelly Tompkins said approximately 1,500 of those jobs can be found in downtown Enid, at about 200 businesses. That includes gift and clothing boutiques; specialty shops, selling such diverse wares as jewelry, guitars, bridal dresses, bicycles and CBD oil; and home furnishings stores, including furniture, appliances and flooring.

Tompkins said gift-shopping opportunities also are available in unexpected locations.

“We often forget about the gift shop inside Leonardo’s (Children’s Museum), the gifts you can buy at BlueJay’s Barber Shop, T-shirts and movies at Simpson’s Old Time Museum, teacher gifts at Merrifield’s Office Plus and a variety of gifts at Scheffe Prescription Shop,” Tompkins said.

Unique discovery

Tompkins said all of those downtown businesses, taken together, provide a value that goes beyond sales tax returns in their ability to boost quality of life and attract new visitors and residents.

“Unique experiences and an authentic atmosphere contribute to business and workforce recruitment,” Tompkins said, “because they add to Enid’s quality of life.”

Riley Jantzen, who co-owns The Felt Bird, 124 S. Independence, with his wife, Stela, said quality of life is a big part of why they opened their eclectic gifts, accessories and apparel boutique 10 years ago.

“I think a community with culture is a happy community,” he said. “Cities that have interesting and great local businesses — that’s where people want to live.”

Jantzen said he and Stela, both of whom grew up in Enid, wanted to bring residents and guests a shopping experience they might not expect in a small city.

“It’s what we would have wanted in Enid when we were younger, and now it’s what want even more of in Enid,” Jantzen said. “We try to bring in items you would normally only find in larger cities. Enid deserves some variety.”

Local dollars

Tompkins said those eclectic, unique shopping experiences, mixed with old-fashioned customer service, help keep shopping dollars invested in the community.

“Our shopping habits have changed in recent years, and our downtown retailers are able to provide an experience and service that we can’t get online,” Tompkins said. “They are making great use of our historic buildings, which provide an atmosphere unique to our downtown.”

One of those unique, local retailers can be found at The Turquoise Boutique, 101 N. Grand, a women’s clothing boutique opened by Josi Hager and her husband, Colby, six years ago.

Colby, who visited with the News & Eagle recently while filling in for Josi at the shop, said downtown shops like The Turquoise Boutique help keep shopping dollars local by creating “a friendly, family atmosphere.” He said that’s particularly evident during First Friday and other downtown events such as Enid Lights Up the Plains.

“Lots of people can come down and get involved, and it doesn’t cost anything,” Hager said. “It’s just a unique, family experience everyone can enjoy.”

Outside of special events, downtown shopping offers a personal experience that makes a difference for local business owners, Colby said.

“You’re not just a number to someone,” Hager said. “When you shop local, you mean something to the shop owners.”

Tompkins said that sense of relationship in local shopping is key to downtown shops’ ability to positively impact economic development.

“Local, independent businesses keep more money circulating in our community, because they likely bank locally and purchase their own supplies from local stores,” Tompkins said. “They also tend to be involved in the community and give back to causes they care about.”

Getting better

Tani Mahaffey, who opened The Boho Teepee, 114 N. Independence, with her daughter-in-law, Logan Mahaffey, in June 2018, said they opened the store on the Square partly due to growth they see in downtown potential.

She said she expects that potential to grow even more when the Best Western GLō hotel, currently under construction, opens for business down the street from her shop.

“We think downtown is growing and is only going to get better with the hotel on its way,” Mahaffey said, “and also with First Fridays and other things Main Street Enid has been doing downtown.”

Tompkins said completion of the downtown hotel has the potential to bring more foot traffic to downtown shops and a one-stop experience for visitors.

“This will be a great opportunity for downtown Enid to be a park-once, weekend, road trip destination,” Tompkins said, “where visitors can enjoy unique shopping, dining at delicious local restaurants and an envious amount of arts and entertainment.”

But, whether downtown shoppers are locals or visitors, Tompkins said they’re improving both quality of life and economic development in the community.

“Everyone who enjoys downtown and shops local is contributing to the uniqueness and sustainability of our community,” Tompkins said.