YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There is no shortage of holiday traditions. From the food people eat to the gifts they buy, traditions play a big role in how people enjoy the holidays and an even bigger role in supporting the local businesses that rely on the seasonal bump.
For many, the most enjoyable holiday traditions involve food, not the least of which is the Thanksgiving tradition of eating turkey.
At Badurik’s Butcher Block in Mineral Ridge, owner Steve Badurik says his store will sell about 700 fresh turkeys and turkey breasts before Thanksgiving.
“Even though you’re doing that volume, it’s a little easier because it’s mainly two items,” he says. “The thing that makes Christmas so tricky is everybody has their own tradition.”
Some of the popular items customers buy for Christmas dinner include prime rib roasts, beef tenderloins, hams and kielbasa, Badurik says.
“From Thanksgiving through New Year’s we’ll probably make about 2,000 pounds of kielbasa,” he says.
The last few years, Badurik says, his shop had some difficulty getting smelt, which are a Christmas tradition to some, although he says this year they seem to be more available.
Badurik says the holiday season is by far the busiest time of year because people lean more on their butchers for special occasions.
“When you’re cooking for more than just your immediate family, you want to make sure that your dinner is going to come out nice.”
The Christmas holiday is also a big driver of business at Butter Maid Bakery in Austintown.
Butter Maid began as the Steelton Bakery on Steel Street in Youngstown in 1903, before changing its name to Butter Maid in 1955.
The bakery’s specialty is kolachi, a thin, hand-rolled dough, usually filled with a walnut-based mixture. The popular dessert originated in Eastern Europe and was brought to the region by immigrants.
“Youngstown is the melting pot for all this ethnic food,” says Jeff Naumoff, owner of Butter Maid Bakery. “We don’t realize how fortunate we are to have everything here.”
To keep business steady during the offseason, the bakery has begun offering more treats such as cookies, as well as seasonal treats such as pumpkin rolls in the fall and lemon-cream kolachi in the spring.
“We try to get creative coming up with a variety of new flavors,” Naumoff says.
Butter Maid began selling online in 2006. Since then, online sales have grown by double digits every year, today making up 95% of total revenues, Naumoff says.
“There are a lot of people who grew up here and then move away and they can’t find kolachi,” Naumoff says. “That’s where we come in.”
But it’s all about the in-store experience at Thom Duma Fine Jewelers in Warren, where 90% of customers are from the Mahoning Valley, says owner Thom Duma.
“It’s closer for someone from Boardman, Poland or Canfield to come to Warren than to go to Pittsburgh,” he says.
Duma is the only jeweler in the Mahoning Valley to offer certain high-end fashion and bridal brands in his store, including the Rolex watch line, which, he says, has made his store a destination.
December accounts for about 20% of total yearly sales, according to Duma, with customers coming in for a little bit of everything.
Big sellers during the holidays include engagement rings – December is the biggest month for engagements – and diamond earrings.
“It’s a basic piece of jewelry that you can go to Sparkle Market and shop in and go out to dinner at night,” Duma says.
Fortunately, the jewelry industry hasn’t seen any supply issues, he says, the lone exception being a shortage of Rolex watches.
But that, Duma says, is because of unusually high demand.
“I’ve seen more people in their 20s and 30s being first-time Rolex buyers,” he says.
At Bodygoodies in Youngstown, owner Heidi Goldberg says she’s had trouble getting just about everything she needs to make her lines of organic soaps, sprays and serums.
“For a certain period of time, I couldn’t get my olive oil, which is in every bar of soap I make,” Goldberg says.
And what items she can get in have gone up in price, sometimes by as much as 100%, she says.
“I got 800 pounds of oils in that cost me what I would normally get 1,500 pounds of oil for,” Goldberg says. “Some things have come down and are more readily available and others are harder to get and through the roof with prices.”
Because her products are all-organic and contain many oils and unusual ingredients, Goldberg has worked hard to keep her prices low, reformulating certain items or offering them in different sizes.
One example is her pillow and linen sprays, which contain sugar cane alcohol, an expensive ingredient that helps to disperse the oils evenly.
To lower costs, Goldberg instead used the ingredients to make body sprays, swapping out the alcohol for the less expensive glycerin, which she says helps the oils stick to a person’s skin.
“I could avoid that expensive ingredient in the product and still bring out something great,” she says.
Still, despite supply chain issues and rising prices, Goldberg and other merchants say business has been good the last few years.
Badurik was particularly worried during the holiday season of 2020, when his butcher shop was handling all sales through a new pickup window.
“I didn’t know how that was going to affect [business]. But it didn’t,” he says.
At Butter Maid Bakery, Naumoff reports business has been accelerating since about 2019, a trend the pandemic did nothing to slow.
“The pandemic was so busy we were turning down a lot of business. 2021 was the same,” he says.
Similarly, 2021 was the best year ever for Thom Duma Fine Jewelers, Duma says.
“The jewelry industry as a whole had their best year ever last year,” he says. “Ever since coming back from COVID, jewelers across America have had their best years ever.”
Duma says 2022 sales are on par with last year and he’s hoping the holiday season will provide enough of a bump to outpace 2021.
To help that happen, Duma is promoting different brands and items and well as hosting special events.
On Dec. 15, Duma will hold “The Wise Man’s Night Out,” featuring food by Roxbury Pizza and beer from Modern Methods Brewing. Attendees will also have a chance to win club-level tickets to a Cleveland Cavaliers game.
“Just a night for guys,” Duma says. “Lots of liquor and jewelry.”
At Bodygoodies, Goldberg relies on her new products to bring in the holiday crowds. This year she is introducing 19 new lines of soap, which she began creating in July.
The new products represent about 7,000 pounds of soap, or about 19,600 bars, all handmade by her, Goldberg says.
“All the new stuff people want to get before it’s gone because people know I do limited releases,” she says.
While Duma admits that in retail “You open the door and hope people walk through. But you never know what’s going to happen,” he and other merchants are betting this holiday season will be a busy one. “I don’t foresee any reason that we won’t have a good Christmas,” Duma says.
Pictured at top: For Steve Badurik, owner of Badurik’s Butcher Block, kielbasa is a best-seller.