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Keep it local when shopping this Christmas season

Contributed Photo • Some festive items available at Union Street Gallery. Many local businesses hope that Unicoi County shoppers will spend dollars close to home this shopping season.

By Richard Rourk

The holiday season’s arrived, but people need look no further than their hometown to find the perfect gift for loved ones.

Unicoi County offers a wide variety of unique gifts for every occasion in various shops in Erwin and Unicoi. Many also like to shop local to show support for the community while finding gifts that may not be available online or in other markets 

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“Shopping local is a very big part of keeping our community small,” said Erwin Apparel owner Amanda Galleher. “When you shop small you are helping to send kids on school trips, put food on tables and help pay bills. Small businesses help support local ball teams, raffles and so much more. Shopping small makes your experience a memorable one. We know who you are and that makes it personal. I love asking how someone’s mother is because I saw online that they were in the hospital. To most larger businesses you are just a number, but to a smaller business you are family.”

Galleher and her staff are ready for holiday shoppers looking for popular gifts this season. 

“Our most popular items this time of year are our Judy Blues, plaid tops and the boots with the fur,” Galleher said. 

One local florist is ready to offer so much more than the typical holiday gift. 

“We do have many floral options this season,” said Plant Palace owner Teresa Lewis. “We have great gifts for the holidays and hosts of Christmas parties.”

She noted that Plant Palace is part of the Telefloral network, so she will have Christmas options and plenty of poinsettias available. 

“We also carry Simply Southern T-shirts, the Willow Tree collection, Corinthian Bells and so much more.”

Lewis sees value in shopping local. 

“By shopping local, you keep tax dollars back into the community you live in,” she said.

For several local businesses, the holiday season kicked off during the First Friday event in Erwin. This event is held every first Friday of the month. The most recent was held  on Dec. 3. 

Union Street Gallery owner Jan Bowden said First Friday shopping numbers have been at pre-COVID levels.

Bowden and her husband, Vince, have several handmade gifts available for purchase for every price range. “We have a big variety of offerings,” Bowden said. “Our gifts range in price from $5 to $900.

Across the street from Union Street Gallery, the season began with a live performance from Erwin’s own Gary Schwenke at Union Street Taproom. “First Friday was a huge success for us and fellow downtown merchants,” said Union Street Taproom owner Michael Baker. 

“We are available for private holiday parties,” Baker added. 

Baker, as well as the crew at Union Street Gallery, are staying busy thinking of ways to provide the community with plenty of entertainment. 

“We will have live music by Zach Meadows for First Friday on Friday, Dec. 3, and karaoke on Saturday, Dec. 11, in conjunction with our Tacky Christmas Sweater Party.”

Baker said there are also plans to host a New Year’s Eve Party on Friday, Dec. 31. “So come ring in the New Year with us,” he said.

One other local business, also located on Union Street, is looking to ensure everyone has gift options despite worldwide shipping issues. 

“It’s been very hard keeping stock with supply chain issues, but we have been able to keep a good supply of items and we did just get a big shipment of Keen boots. Stanley insulated water bottles and many one-of-a-kind items,” said Erwin Outdoor Supply owner Brandy Bevins. “We will also be running a special for every $100 spent, we will take off $10.”

In Unicoi, there are also plenty of shopping opportunities for that perfect gift this season. 

“The Buzz is Unicoi’s only consignment shop,” said store owner Connie Rice. “We have a big variety of new and used merchandise. The inventory consists of antiques, furniture, seasonal decor, home decor, new gift items, local artwork and greeting cards.”

She noted that prices at The Buzz are $1 and up. 

“The gift line is very unique and reasonable, which is perfect for birthdays and Christmas,” she said.

Holiday hours for The Buzz are Fridays from noon until 5 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. 

“We will also open up by appointment by calling (423) 220-9825,” Rice said. “You won’t know what you are missing until you buzz by.”

Located inside the Unicoi Visitors Center is one of the region’s most unique shopping experiences. The Tanasi Arts and Heritage Center offers handmade art pieces from the region’s most decorated artists. 

“You can come by this week, Thursday and Friday, anytime from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and hopefully starting next week with Wednesdays also,” said Tanasi Arts & Heritage Center board of directors chairman Court Lewis. 

“You can also find out more, including which artists and pieces are featured, by visiting tanasiarts.org,” Lewis added.

The advice of all the business owners? Simply keep it local while shopping this holiday season.