The spirit of the holidays and a dash of hope were in the air in downtown Aiken Thursday night.
Downtown Aiken's "Holiday open house" – an event where 22 downtown Aiken businesses kept their doors open until 8 p.m. – gave businesses a chance to not only assist Aiken residents with finding the perfect holiday gift deals, but also gave them a needed economic boost after months of economic uncertainty.
Aiken's businesses are still trying to bounce back after the blow the pandemic dealt them earlier this year. The lockdown forced businesses to constrict the number of customers who could enter their shops at a time or greatly persuade them to shop for their products online. Many chose to close down altogether and are still recovering from such a decision six months later.
In March, business owner Van Smith of Lionel Smith Ltd., was mourning the canceled spring season, which was supposed to bring in a business boom with events like prom and weddings on the horizon.
Now with the holidays bringing in such profitable potential, Smith hopes to find similar ground as his business was on last holiday season, but he expects the changing trends of the pandemic will hinder such progress, especially when it comes to in-store shopping.
"We're seeing that a lot of people are afraid to come out because they're afraid of other people," Smith said, referring to mask-wearing. "They don't trust other people."
However, Smith is also expecting customers may be more willing to spend money for gifts this year due to the desire to help local businesses, as well as to make up for their constrictive traveling plans.
"I think many people are going to have a smaller Christmas ... and they're probably going to do something a little bit extra since they weren't able to do much in the spring and the summer," Smith said.
Businesses like the Aiken Antique Mall managed to keep their heads above water during the shutdown. The business has seen a boost in patronage since reopening its doors over the summer.
"We weren't sure at first what was going to happen, but then we had travelers from all over, and different states just to get away from theirs, so we've been very blessed," said Katie Matthews, an employee with Aiken Antique Mall.
Aiken Antique Mall has continued to remain fairly profitable during the last several months, and Matthews hopes to keep the mojo going through the holiday months, and wishes the same fruitfulness on her fellow businesses.
"(Small businesses) are the backbone of Aiken, I think," Matthews said. "We've got such a wonderful downtown, and Aiken has been so good to support all of our small stores and businesses right now."