‘Downtown Hot Springs is flourishing’

Black Friday was booming for local retailers as downtown Hot Springs was filled with shoppers, despite an overcast morning filled with drizzling rain.

Toddy Pitard, owner of Lauray’s The Diamond Center, said the jewelry store is looking to exceed last year’s record numbers.

“I’m very blessed that we are 30% over last year, which was the best year we ever had,” he said. “I think that our leaders that we have that are in Hot Springs have really driven the business here, and everything I’m hearing is good.”

The point-of-sale system Lauray’s uses is common among jewelry stores across the country, and the system sends sales data to users to use as a comparison to their own sales data.

“They send us where everybody is in the jewelry industry, and it’s down about 10%,” Pitard said. “We’re up against our best year ever, which was last year, and if we keep going the way we are, we’re gonna have a record-setting year. This month we’re way ahead for the month.”

Owning a business that has been active for nearly a century Pitard acknowledges the history of quality and service dates back before he purchased it.

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“That just doesn’t happen in businesses today,” he said of the business reaching 98 years. “I don’t pat myself on the back; I give the credit where credit’s due. The Fleischner family did a great job with Lauray’s, and it’s myself and my team’s job to make sure that we continue in the integrity and things that they’ve done. I think we’ve done a pretty good job, and the numbers show that. So we’re excited to be in Hot Springs and being a part of downtown.”

Pitard said Hot Springs stands out from the rest of the country when it comes to national trends.

“It’s almost like we’re in a bubble here, and the trickle effect of what’s going on in New York, California, sometimes it gets here, sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “We don’t feel that things are harder to get naturally, which we bought in double because we knew that we didn’t want to run out, but from A to Z, it has been really good. … I feel that with the interest rates going up and the things that are happening, people still have money, and they’re still spending.”

While Wrapped Gift Boutique is a newcomer to downtown Hot Springs, owner Audrey Smith said things are looking good for its first Black Friday.

“Downtown’s busier than ever,” she said, noting their day started strongly. “We have our light parade coming up next Monday, so that’s going to be really fun. We had our chili cook-off last Monday. So I mean, we have a lot of great things going on downtown. There’s just been a ton of activity and tourists and locals all down here shopping.”

As an area that sees a large amount of tourist traffic, Smith said there are people from all areas stopping by the store.

“It’s a good mix, and like I said, with all the fun activities down here, I think it brings a lot of the locals down also,” she said. “And then we are new, but having gifts that are unique seems to be a real draw. A lot of people come in and can’t wait to come back again.”

Smith said being a boutique store, there is a focus on individual gifts, but she has also seen people gravitating toward some of their sales items.

“We’re a gift boutique, so I do find most people today are shopping for gifts for their family members or trying to get their Christmas list started with great deals,” she said.

Another staple in downtown Hot Springs is the Toy Chest, which has been in business since 1989. Owner Anne Marcus said business in the city is doing well.

“Downtown Hot Springs is flourishing,” she said. “We have really held steady even through … what some of the other cities are going through and what the trend is nationally, but I think that downtown Hot Springs is really just experiencing a very strong, vital retail experience right now and has been for the last several years.”

Marcus said the COVID-19 pandemic was actually beneficial for downtown Hot Springs due to people discovering or rediscovering the city due to the number of things that can be done outdoors.

“If you talk to a lot of people, a lot of people discovered Hot Springs in the last couple of years,” she said. “We have a lot of repeat tourists. It’s a fun place to come, and when they come, they want to come back. It’s an easy destination for a lot of people from a number of locales.

“We get so many people that it’s easy for them to come here from Louisiana, from Texas, from Mississippi, from Oklahoma. A lot of people, they like to come here in the summer for the lakes, but then they also want to come back here in the fall. They love the hiking trails; they love going downtown. There’s so much for them to do here, and it’s a great family destination.”

As an “old-fashioned toy store,” many items found in Toy Chest are “powered by imagination,” Marcus said.

“We don’t carry a lot of the video games or the electronic toys that you might find in a mass market toy store, but our toys really have always appealed to that sense of family, the sense of tradition,” she said. “People walk in our toy store, and … a lot of times the first thing out of their mouth is, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen this in ages,”https://www.hotsr.com/news/2022/nov/26/watch-downtown-hot-springs-is-flourishing/”Oh my goodness, we played with this.’ It really speaks to things that people remember playing with growing up. Some of the toys that we carry on our shelves in our product mix have been in our product mix for the entire 33 years we’ve been in business. However, we continually add new and exciting toys to our product mix every year.”

While the majority of the traffic the store sees is people from out-of-town, Marcus said there are many people who visited the store as children returning with their own children.

“A lot of customers who were in strollers, who were infants, or 2 or 3 years old, are now pushing their own strollers into our store, which has been great fun,” she said. “Unfortunately, we lost my father a couple of years ago, but when he was alive, it was great fun for both my mother, father and I to see those children grow up in our store and then start to bring their own children into our store. So we’ve seen a couple of generations grow up in our store now.”

  photo  Audrey Smith, owner of Wrapped Gift Boutique, says the store had a great start for its first Black Friday. – Photo by Lance Porter of The Sentinel-Record
  photo  Toddy Pitard, owner of Lauray’s The Diamond Center, says downtown Hot Springs has continued to thrive, despite negative trends nationwide. – Photo by Lance Porter of The Sentinel-Record