Downtown comes out of pandemic ‘guns blazing’

Port retailers report second strong year of sales in a row despite national economic woes

IF THIS YEAR was any indication, Port Washington has come out of the pandemic and is thriving after a busy holiday season, Tom Sharbuno, owner of Sharbuno Jeweler (above), said. Kelly Brown, owner of Locally Inspired, pictured at right during 2021’s Small Business Saturday, said the summer was busy, although the holiday season slowed down a bit, particularly after frigid weather hit just before Christmas. Photo above by Sam Arendt

By KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM

Ozaukee Press staff

Downtown Port Washington has come out of the pandemic thriving, several downtown retailers said this week.

Proof of that can be seen in this holiday season, which they said was strong despite the high inflation and economic woes plaguing the nation.

“I think we came out (of the pandemic) guns blazing,” Tom Sharbuno, owner of Sharbuno Jewelers, said. “Last year was a record year. This year was great as well.

“I think we’re very much back in the swing of things here.”

His comments were echoed by Kelly Brown, owner of Locally Inspired, who said that while the frigid weather just before Christmas put a damper on the holidays, “it was a good season.”

It has been a stellar year, Brown added.

“This summer was amazing,” Brown said. “I’ve talked to other business owners, and summer was fantastic for all of us. This summer, we got back some of our tourists. People got back to traveling.”

And, she said, her move to a storefront on the lakefront likely helped increase her business.

In summer, she noted, roughly 75% of business can be attributed to visitors while during the holidays the ratio of residents to visitors is about 60-40.

But, Brown added, visitors continue to stop in the city.

“Even today I had someone up from Chicago,” she said.”But most of it is more local or at least Ozaukee County during the holiday season.”

Sharbuno said one reason he believes business has been brisk is that people saved money during the pandemic and now have the wherewithal to spend.

And, he said, they want to get out and they want to support their community.

“We’re social,” he said. “We don’t like being cooped up.

“And people love personal service, and we give a lot of that.”

The holiday season “was busy,” Sharbuno said, adding that customers this year “went back to staple things — diamond earrings, pendants and rings.”

Last year, he said, diamond bracelets were the top seller.

Sharbuno said he expects that businesses will feel the impact of the economic woes this year.

“I think that’s going to catch up with us more next year,” he said last week. “It’s just a feeling I have. We should have seen more of a slowing down than we did.”

Brown said that while holiday business was good, she saw a slowing near the end of the year.

  On Small Business Saturday in November, she said, there was more foot traffic than in the past but people spent less. And as the holiday season went on, “There wasn’t as much splurging and going beyond what people came in for.

“I think it slowed down a little.”

Downtown Port is doing well, however, Brown said.

There are few storefronts that are vacant, and Brown, who is a member of the Port Main Street Inc. board of directors, said a number of businesses have expressed interest in moving to the downtown.

“We have a few businesses that are eager to come into Port Washington,” she said. “It’s great to have businesses that look at our community as a place they want to be.”

Sharbuno, whose shop is celebrating its 73rd year in downtown, concurred.

“We’ve got a nice mix of businesses,” he said. “We’ve got some great restaurants again, like we used to. There are so many awesome things to find downtown.”

And, he said, the new shops are “a lot of really awesome small-town businesses. I think we’re looking nice and healthy and it’s growing.

“Things are looking good for downtown Port.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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