Main Street Merchant Profile: Pufferbellies

In a new series of blog entries, we’re highlighting Main Street merchants — the entrepreneurs who create jobs and care for historic structures in our traditional commercial districts. To share the successes of one of your merchants, contact Doug Jackson.

Pufferbellies, a shop specializing in top-notch service to the next generation of Main Street customers, offers a well curated selection of toys and books for children.

Occupying two store fronts on West Johnson Street in Staunton’s Wharf district, Pufferbellies makes it clear from the street what you’re going to find inside, both in the products offered and the attention to detail in merchandising.

In 2008, store owners Susan and Erin Blanton restored 15 West Johnson street,  one of the few buildings in downtown Staunton with original street-level doors, window frames, moldings and trim. Since its construction in the early 1900s, it’s gone largely unchanged, but it’s probably never been this much fun.

What Pufferbellies does especially well is engage the community–both online (1,500 people like their facebook page) and face-to-face, with great customer service and welcoming special events (free Wednesday Crafternoon activities anyone?).  At Pufferbellies, staff members know the children by name and they’ve got tips for just the right gift or party game. It’s enough to make you want to be a kid again, or at least play like one.

For some customer service and marketing tips from the Pufferbellies team, such as why they don’t have to compete with Target,  read this short  Toy Directory Online article.

Small Town and Merchant Program brings relevant resources to downtown merchants

Virginia Main Street continues the partnership with Virginia Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), bringing the Small Town & Merchant Program to traditional commercial districts.

In the workshop, “Staying Relevant to a Changed Customer,” retail expert Marc Willson positions the consumer in the recovering economy and provides real resources and information to help merchants retain existing customers and capture new ones.  He then provides one-on-one retail and restaurant check-ups, tailoring strategies for specific businesses.

Marc Willson brings  35 years of experienceto participating communities.  In 1975, Marc started his retail career as co-owner of the largest distributor of Earth Shoes in the U.S.  Since then he has held executive positions with retailers such as Britches of Georgetowne, Crown Books, Circuit City, The Bicycle Exchange, and Storetrax, Inc.  Most recently, he traveled to Dallas, Texas to open the world’s first energy efficiency store for Current Energy, LLC, a company funded by Ross Perot, Jr. Marc joined the SBDC in 2009 as a Retail Industry Consultant.

For more information on the program, designated Main Street communities should contact Virginia Main Street.  Other communities should work through the local SBDC.

Hi ho the derry-o, the farmer has e-mail

An article in the April issue of Inc. Magazine prompted one more look at that thought-provoking Permuto Discoveries graphic.  We’ve looked at drugstores as a anchors on Main Street and at engaging downtown merchants in e-commerce.  Now we’ll look specifically at the food, wine, and beer category, with about 57 percent of sales being catalog, telephone, and online sales. (That seems high, but consider specialty – higher-priced – food sales, urban grocery deliveries, and online wine auctions.)

But what about the growing locavore movement?  Why would someone shopping locally turn to the Internet?  The answers are probably the same as they are for other products: convenience, product knowledge, and value. is working to provide these for the community of people for whom place and proximity matters when making food purchases.

The Web site can act as a virtual farmer’s market and a marketing tool for local farmers. And it can be used to support physical farmer’s markets and the growers who sell at them. (Check out Local Dirt’s diagram of how the Web site is used by consumers, producers and farmer’s markets.)

Worth Exploring: Main Street organizations have led the way in promoting downtown farmer’s markets as community convening points and district anchors, connecting residents to local food suppliers. Critical to that effort is helping the farmer reach consumers, sharing the story of their particular farm and product.  A Local Dirt profile could be a marketing and community-building tool to help them do that, both boosting interest in shopping from vendors at the farmer’s market, and  even giving farmers an outlet off-season for some value added non-perishables.  It’s not the only option out there, and your blog or Web site is a good starting point.  It’s worth exploring this season. 

Here are some other examples and tools for promoting and selling local markets and produce to help you start: 

Loudoun Flavor
Frederick County (MD) Virtual Farmers Market
Abingdon Farmers’ Market
Virginia Agriculture and Consumer Services