DECATUR — When she stepped inside of Giggles at 124 N. Merchant Street on Thursday, Kim Johnson apologized to the staff for not wearing her witch hat that evening.
Thursday was "Witches' Night Out," a collaboration between multiple businesses in downtown Decatur to provide a fun, Halloween-themed experience for customers. Visitors of participating stores were treated to special sales, raffle prizes, snacks, drinks and extended operating hours.
Some of the businesses that were involved with this year's event included Giggles, Shop On Main, Merle Norman Cosmetics, The Brass Horn and Capelli's Studio and Spa.
Local store owners say events like Witches' Night Out are not only fun and engaging experiences for themselves and their employees, but they also serve as a fresh way to draw in new and returning customers, like Johnson.
"If these stores are still here and doing good business, then a lot of that gets put back into the community," said Johnson, 41, of Mount Zion. "There's just so much to do downtown."
The popularity of events like Witches Night Out comes in the midst of continually changing times for brick-and-mortar stores, both across the country and locally.
As more consumers flock to use online retailers like Amazon or Wish.com, many local stores throughout the country have suffered sharp sales declines in recent years. Many have found ways to adapt and remain in business, while many others have closed their doors for good as a result.
Sheryol Threewit, owner of All Things Beautiful Collectibles and Gifts at 219 N. Main Street, said that she's seen a lot of stores come and go since she first opened hers six years ago.
"I've got a sign hanging up that says 'Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on as other have let go,'" she said. "I guess I'll just hang in here."
For Threewit, learning to adapt and accepting change has been key in the success of her business. She's become more active on social media, has kept an eye on what things her customers are interested in buying and has even tried to sell goods online.
As she prepared to welcome visitors into her spooky-themed store for wine and good times, Threewit said Witches' Night Out isn't a "money-maker" for All Things Beautiful. The positive relationships that she builds with customers during it and similar events are what prepares her for the holidays, she said.
Just like any other retailer, Threewit said the holiday season is important to her business. The more she interacts with people and the more they experience what her store has to offer, the better they'll remember to come back again when they begin their Christmas shopping, she said.
"Decatur can be great, but we just need to have our city try to support us," she said. "Our communities need to be behind us."
Marilyn Melvin feels the same way. The owner of Merle Norman Cosmetics, 148 E. Main Street, started hosting Witches' Night Out events at her store in 2006. She said she wanted to find a way to keep customers engaged between the end of summer and the start of winter.
"We didn't have anything going on in the fall," Melvin said. "We do have Arts in the Park, but we needed something to fill in before Christmas takes over."
After a few years of hosting Witches' Night Out at Merle Norman, Melvin reached out to Shop On Main owner Cindy Deadrick, and together, they worked to recruit more businesses to join in on the festivities.
"It's important for downtown and small businesses to do something like this because its after our normal hours," Deadrick said. "People who can't normally come downtown during the day can come at night. Plus, it's fun."
Not only is it fun, but Deadrick said similar events are testaments to the relevance of brick-and-mortar stores as society continues to look to the internet for their goods. Shopping online is convenient and easy to do, she said, but it can never replace the experience of shopping in a physical space.
"You can't touch things, and you can't feel them online, and that's still important to an awful lot of people," Deadrick said.
Melvin and Threewit agree, and said that the personal element of visiting a locally owned business is what makes them special.
"They just provide a small town feel and cater to the local community," Melvin said. "That's what keeps bringing people back."