New Hampshire’s rural Monadnock Region is challenging locals to spend where they live with a post-Thanksgiving event called Plaid Friday. It’s a lighthearted alternative to Black Friday, meant to ease the shopping frenzy and make it a more pleasurable experience, all the while lending support to local businesses. And then there’s the bonus that shoppers get to show off their latest in plaid fashion.
“That was really the idea behind it,” said Jen Risley, program manager for The Local Crowd Monadnock. “Embrace everyone already wearing plaid, document it with a picture, and watch it grow.”
Twelve years ago, she was one of the original supporters of the Plaid Friday initiative, which she said has now “taken on a life of its own.”
It began with a local sweets shop, bookstore, and coffee roastery volunteering to act as hubs and photo booths for shoppers bedecked in plaid in southwest New Hampshire.
“It really is about the individual making a commitment and then showing it with their clothing,” said Risley.
The event helps local businesses, which in turn can yield benefits for the entire region. Spending locally delivers a stronger economic return for the community. A 2012 study found that for every $100 spent locally, $68 stays in the community versus only $43 when the same amount is spent at a national chain.
From shoppers to staff to animal friends, some are more dedicated than others. At one local hub, Manning Hill Farm, the owners even dress up a cow so visitors can take a picture alongside the plaid-wearing bovine.
Pre-Covid, the area saw as many as 30 business hubs, which in return for their support, received marketing benefits leading up to the big day. Risley said the local shopping event “is kind of like an institution around here, which is fabulous.”
As the new coordinator of Shop Indie Local for the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), Risley is now gleaning all she can from locations across the U.S. that invest in Plaid Friday and similar events. Available by email, she’s eager to hear their stories and share insights with rural communities intrigued by the idea.
She’s also working to promote a range of opportunities for local organizations to run with. Small Business Saturday, Artists Sunday, and Giving Tuesday are all on the menu, as well as a homegrown New Hampshire celebration that locals are particularly fond of, Cider Monday.
It was sparked by the simple yet clever idea of Willard Williams, owner of Toadstool Bookshops. Serving up apple cider gave local businesses the chance to encourage regional shopping on Cyber Monday and open a dialogue about what it means to buy from your own community.
While it could be easy to write these New Hampshire traditions off as your classic New England fairytale, you might be surprised to discover that the start of it all, Plaid Friday, didn’t originate on the East Coast. In fact, it was the brainstorm of Kerri Johnson of Oakland, California. And today it’s a trend for local-shopping lovers across the United States.
Like New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region, a small, historic river town called Stillwater, Minnesota, has also been celebrating the shop-local spirit with Plaid Friday for the last decade or so. The old lumber town, with its showstopping lift bridge, lies about 30 miles east of Minneapolis and boasts over 100 owner-operated shops and restaurants in its downtown. “It’s just such a rare find in today’s world,” said Christie Rosckes, marketing director for the Stillwater/Oak Park Heights Convention & Visitor Bureau.
For years, the holiday season has been a big draw for Stillwater, which Rosckes said, “gives you this charming, nostalgic, Christmas kind of feel.” There, Plaid Friday is simply a kick-off event. “It’s really thinking about: How can I shop small during the entire holiday season?” she said.
Dubbed “Hometown for the Holidays,” the month-long celebration is collaboratively promoted by downtown business owners and the visitors bureau, with events encouraging people to dine and shop. “So we can all feel like we’re in the movies and we’re back to this cute little Noman Rockwell scene,” Rosckes said.
Each business has its own merriment and shopping incentives. For instance, in years past, a local fashion stop called Enchanté, has offered a percentage off by the hour. “So your best deal is going to be right away at 9 a.m.,” Rosckes said.
That’s right, 9 a.m., not 6. Plaid Friday is all about the leisurely start, the enjoyment, the coffee, and snacks. But in Stillwater, one thing is less present than in other places—the plaid. “We should probably try harder because we are a lumberjack town,” Rosckes said with a laugh. But she said it’s just something that never really took off. The idea of shopping locally, however, certainly did.
As a river town, attracting people during winter can be challenging. But the convention and visitors bureau develops a large marketing campaign each year with advertising ranging from the local radio station and newspaper to broader social media efforts and web presence.
Much of the promotion relies on involvement from equally invested players in the community, such as the chamber of commerce. “It’s always good to collaborate,” Rosckes said. Her advice: “Work together because you have a lot more power.”