SULLIVAN — Carol Gregory goes through a significant amount of effort to get The Briarwood in Sullivan looking just the way she wants it for holiday shopping.

The work pays off when customers from in town and elsewhere come through the doors at 917 W. Harrison St. to find their spirits brightened by the relaxed atmosphere inside the business, said Gregory, one of the shop’s owners.

“I want to wow people when they come in,” Gregory said. “We have music playing in the store. It’s set up like a home, and it’s festive.”

Gregory is among the business owners in small towns near Decatur hoping shoppers will venture away from major retailers for unique deals as they look for gifts this holiday season. The store has a selection of home decor items ranging from candles to custom furniture as Gregory strives to set it apart from other stores.

“They like that experience,” Gregory said. “We look for new and interesting items.”

The holiday season can be among the reasons people enjoy living or working in a small town.

A Christmas in Maroa event was organized this weekend with the town’s first-ever Festival of Trees in part to help get residents and visitors feeling the Christmas spirit, said Brenda Zombro, co-owner of The Fireplace at 109 E. Main St. Zombro usually finds the holidays to be an enjoyable time of year.

“It doesn’t matter what the year has been like,” Zombro said. “It brings out the best in everyone.”

Merchants in Mount Pulaski gave shoppers a chance to start their holiday shopping the weekend before Thanksgiving during the annual Christmas on Vinegar Hill event. They’re hoping those who visited that weekend and others will come back to find what they have to offer.

“You always see a smile on their face,” said Phyllis Beccue, one of the owners of Salt Creek Attic located along the square in Mount Pulaski. “They feel good about what they’re getting. We have items you don’t find at Wal-Mart and Kmart.”

It’s those who return to the stores that make the difference, Beccue said.

Sales in December are usually strong at neighboring Vintage One LTD, co-owner Jill Saulsberry said. Although the event has become a long-running tradition, Saulsberry said they still see new visitors every year looking for its array of florals, jewelry and antiques. A lot of times they will see those visitors again.

“They like to come up here with more time to shop,” Saulsberry said.

With the history of the courthouse across the street and the area buzzing with activity, Saulsberry said the holiday season has a special feel.

“They like the nostalgia of a small town,” Saulsberry said. “It gives people a chance to see what we have.”

Christmas on Vinegar Hill wasn’t the only time for shoppers to see what a town such as Mount Pulaski has to offer. The stores there will work together again to hold a Ladies Night from 2 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12.

As a way to promote shopping at locally owned businesses, the Sullivan Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development started a promotional campaign in November called Shop Only Sullivan. The idea is to get consumers to not only think about buying holiday-related items locally but lead them to shop at those businesses throughout the year, said Stepheny McMahon, the group’s executive director.

“We have stores in town many of them have never been in,” McMahon said. “The goal for all of us is get our foot in the door. You’d be surprised at what you can find.”

New habits can form out of what a shopper might decide to do now, McMahon said.

Gregory realizes many visitors will come from out of town to shop at The Briarwood, so she keeps in mind that that can benefit nearby businesses. She’s usually ready to recommend a restaurant in town to eat or other shops to find items.

“We have a lot of people drive quite the distance to come here,” Gregory said. “We hope once they come to the store, they stay a customer.”

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