Hungry people crowded into the Community Room at City Hall for the Chamber of Commerce’s annual pancake feed to start Saturday’s activities.
Kendra Jefferson, the chamber’s executive director, says in addition to class reunions and the firemen’s dance drawing hundreds for the weekend, a brand new and colorful 5K race pulled runners and their cheering sections into town.
They’re all extra visitors that local businesses take advantage of.
“It’s just a great opportunity for them to have a little extra business and to show people what we really have, sometimes we have some hidden treasures people aren’t aware of,” says Jefferson.
Shops like the Ladybug Tea House say the downtown “Sale-a-bration” of sidewalk sales and activities does boost foot traffic.
“A lot of out-of-towners that are in town visiting family and have been with their family, some big groups - this one that just came in was five sisters and they’re from all over,” says owner Kathy DeBoer, who also operates Countryside Flowers.
A steady stream of customers filed in and out to see the Ladybug’s sidewalk sale that moved indoors to beat the heat, and to grab the root beer float special. DeBoer is going into her 25th year of business in Central City, and says she’s part of a strong business district even when the extra patrons aren’t in town.
“It’s great because everybody knows everybody, and that helps a lot, when they come in and call you by name,” she says.
Down the street, some “new” businesses popped up to grab those Lone Tree Days guests too. It’s the fifth year of Entrepreneurship Youth Camp for Merrick County middle schoolers.
“We have 7th and 8th graders, they’ve been camping all week from Monday through Thursday, they took the 4th off and now they’re here today selling their products and services,” says Doris Lux, the director of the Entrepreneurship Center at Central Community College Columbus.
Students like seventh grader Jarrett Parsons can sell their own wares while getting a glimpse of how real shops sustain themselves.
“We’re selling fishing pole holders, which, you don’t have to have them as fishing pole holders, it can be yard decorations,” says Parsons.
The camp teaches the kids that entrepreneurship can be a career like any other, and Lux says they get the bonus experience of starting their own small business.
“They work with the public, the public treats them just like businesspeople, and the young people step up to that,” she says.
One focus of camp is strengths, and for some like Parsons, it’s in salesmanship.
“I was twirling the sign and singing and trying to get as many people to look at me as I could,” says Parsons of his technique.
Camp leaders say the ten kids taking part in Merrick County this year represent every community in the county, and they all came up with products never seen and done at camp before.