Columbia's Holiday Shop Hop encourages support for local businesses

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COLUMBIA - Dozens of downtown Columbia businesses are set to kick off the holiday shopping season with Saturday's Holiday Shop Hop.

The Downtown Community Improvement District hosts the annual event to showcase store sales and encourage people to buy gifts locally.

District employee Sophia Lauriello said about 50 businesses are participating, and most are on Ninth street and Broadway. They stores sell items such as pet products, household goods, winter clothing, soaps and ornaments. 

"I think it's important just to support the businesses that are, you know, near you and run by people who live in your community," Lauriello said.

Bluestem Missouri Crafts co-owner Sandy Litecky said the store has been participating in the Holiday Shop Hop for more than 30 years. The store is one of many that will host a holiday open house with drinks and snacks.

Litecky said she expects a boost in sales Saturday because of the nice weather and lack of a home football game, which will entice people to come downtown because traffic won't be as bad.

"This is a very important season for us, as it is for most retail businesses," she said. "We've been here all week decorating and changing displays."

Melissa Alabach, co-owner of Tallulahs, said, "Everybody loves the festive atmosphere."

Tallulahs' staff started decorating the store with Christmas  and winter-themed goods on Sunday and finished Wednesday. 

Kate Arnold is a representative who sells merchandise to Tallulahs. She said the Holiday Shop Hop highlights how it's important to contribute to the downtown economy so stores can hire people and keep their lights on. She said it's hard to compete with Amazon and other online stores when people buy holiday gifts at those sites.

"We don't need robots," she said. "We still need mom and pops."

Arnold said shoppers can buy unique items at local businesses, as opposed to what she called "cookie-cutter" products at department stores and shopping websites.

Lauriello said she's excited to take advantage of the sales and buy gifts that are different than what she could buy elsewhere.

"I like buying things that, you know, you can only really find in Columbia and that means something, like, in your community," she said.

The Holiday Shop Hop will run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parking in downtown garages will be free during those times, and the city is offering $2 off street parking with its Parkmobile phone app.

The Downtown CID will also light the downtown Magic Tree, located at the corner of Ninth and Broadway, at 5:30 p.m.