The holiday season became just a little brighter this week for three area families thanks to almost 70 locally owned and operated businesses and The Observer News Enterprise's shop-local Hometown Christmas program.
"Santa Claus came just a few days early for a few lucky families," said The O-N-E Publisher Michael Willard, "and he came early for the businesses that welcomed customers who spent holiday dollars inside the locally owned shops, restaurants and businesses that are so important to this region's economy."
As part of The O-N-E's shop-local program, Hickory Metro merchants participating in Hometown Christmas each contributed gifts and gift certificates to create three prize packages valued at more than $2,000.
Throughout the six-week promotion, area residents who visited participating businesses in the area could register to become winners in six $100 weekly drawings. They also automatically entered a drawing for one of the three grand prizes.
Grand prize winners were officially announced in a live drawing broadcast on 1230AM and 630AM during the Wacky Wake-Up Crew on Dec. 16.
Those winners included Propst Crossroads community resident Troy Stallings, who won a set of four tires from Paramount Automotive. A volunteer firefighter for 45 years, Stallings said he visits so many locally owned businesses in the Hickory Metro he couldn't remember exactly where he registered to win.
Claremont resident Kristen Almanza-Soria remembers exactly where she registered, however — Once Upon a Child in Hickory. Almanza-Soria and her husband are parents to a 2-year-old daughter, and the family won a grand prize package worth more than $1,000. It is filled with gifts and gift certificates from Hometown Christmas participants throughout the Hickory Metro.
The prize came just in time for the family to finish Christmas shopping.
"I was waiting to get my next paycheck to finish (my Christmas shopping)," Almanza-Soria said, adding she won't keep all the gifts to herself. "I wanted to donate some if it to my church, St. Aloysius (Catholic Church). I felt like God had helped me to win, so I wanted to give something back."
Of course, Willard pointed out that she also gave something back when she supported the local businesses of this community. But why shop local?
"They are just more friendly with their customers," she said.
That's a sentiment with which Catawba residents Glenn and Jean Cloninger can agree. The couple said they prefer to go to locally owned businesses to complete shopping and enjoy meals.
"Mainly to keep that money here. ... The only way to keep local businesses open is to go and support them," Glenn said. "The malls are OK, and its not that we don't go to the malls, but there is too much aggravation to go to Hickory for everything."
The Cloningers also won a prize package worth more than $1,000 and filled with gifts and gift certificates from businesses throughout Newton, Conover, Claremont, Catawba, Maiden and Hickory. City governments in Newton, Conover and Maiden also participated in Hometown Christmas and contributed gifts to The O-N-E's shop local campaign.
Jean admitted she couldn't remember exactly where she registered to win during the six-week promotion, but it was probably one of two places, Bowman Drug in Conover or Cindy's Starlite Café in Catawba
"When Cindy moved in to Catawba, we needed another restaurant," Glenn said. "She does good business, too."
That's a big part of the reason The O-N-E created the Hometown Christmas program, Willard said.
"We want all of the locally owned and operated businesses in the Hickory Metro to do a good business," he said. "And why shouldn't they? These businesses offer wonderful customer service, quality products, great selection and they are convenient to reach."
Plus, those businesses are essential to the success of the entire region's economy.
"When you visit and spend money with these Hometown Christmas participants, you are investing in our own community," Willard said.
"You are keeping your money in the Hickory Metro as those dollars go toward payroll, investments in business development and even toward the local charities these business owners support.
"Shopping local just makes good economic sense," he continued. "Rather than taking your hard-earned dollars to the big boxes and malls, we hope Catawba County citizens will invest in our businesses and our economy by shopping at locally owned businesses for the rest of this holiday season and into 2012."
For a complete list of businesses participating in Hometown Christmas, pick up a copy of Outlook or look for advertisements in The O-N-E and Outlook that include the Hometown Christmas logo.