Originally Published: December 3, 2011 10 p.m.
Ian Russell was twiddling his thumbs about this time in 2010.
Russell owns the Ian Russell Art Gallery of Fine Art, where business was mighty slow back then.
He's painting a different picture these days after the steady flow of people who came to check out his gallery this past weekend.
"I was overwhelmed with the amount of people who came through here," he said. "It has been wonderful. I couldn't be happier."
A sampling of small business owners in downtown Prescott shows that small business owners are as optimistic about the holiday shopping season as the big chain stores.
Representatives from the Kohl's, Target and Best Buy stores in the tri-city area came through the Black Friday rush with high hopes for strong sales throughout the season. On the national side, the National Retail Federation forecast a 2.8 percent jump in holiday sales this year to $465.6 billion.
That spike is below the 5.2 percent increase retailers saw in 2010 holiday sales, but it's higher than the 10-year average holiday sales boost of 2.6 percent.
BIGresearch, the federation's survey arm, shows 226 million shoppers went to retailers and websites on Black Friday, with spending reaching about $52.4 billion. Consumers spent an average of $150.53 per person in online purchases.
Nearly 29 million people went shopping at stores and online Thanksgiving Day, an increase from 22.2 million in 2010, according to the survey.
That's an encouraging sign considering stock market volatility, inconsistent job growth and higher fuel and food prices.
Irene Handley, co-owner of Pralines Of Prescott in Bashford Courts, said she too was very busy this past weekend.
"We were kind of surprised, actually," she said, adding that they have several orders for the boxes of assorted chocolates they make at the store.
Black Friday isn't a huge deal for Handley, who is a bit of a realist when it comes to trying to predict holiday sales.
"You never know - everybody could be shopping early," she said. "We're always optimistic anyway."
Down Gurley Street, Donna Holick was doing brisk business selling dog treats at the Whiskers Barkery pet store she runs with Charlotte Peters.
Holick believes consumers are feeling a bit better about the economy and the holiday season.
"I think people are starting to seem a little less stressed than last year," she said.
Holick believes business will improve slightly over the past year.
"There are lots of affordable things to get without breaking the bank," she added.
Also giving small business owners a boost are the annual holiday events that are hitting the downtown area. The annual Holiday Light Parade, Acker Musical Showcase and the Courthouse Lighting ceremony all provide extra exposure to downtown merchants.
Russell said he can't wait to see what those events do for business and the 30 artists who showcase their work at his gallery.
"I think it's going to stay very steady," he said. "I think (the economy) is getting better."