MARYVILLE, Mo. — Scores of shoppers browsed through merchandise and filled shopping bags Saturday in downtown Maryville and along the South Main retail corridor during the fourth biannual Make it Maryville Shop Hop, an event sponsored for the first time this spring by the Maryville Downtown Improvement Organization.

MDIO president Stephanie Campbell, who owns the Blue Willow Boutique at 220 N. Main St., said the twice-yearly event, held on the first Saturday of June and December, continues to grow and constitutes two of the heaviest shopping days on the calendar for participating merchants.

All 12 retail stores involved in Saturday’s Shop Hop offered specials, sales and discounts with many providing in-store giveaways and snacks.

Each of the stores also contributed to a grand-prize drawing after which one lucky shopper will take home a giveaway basket containing merchandise and gift cards valued at more than $500.

“It’s an awesome day,” Campbell said. “It’s just a day when local people shop their local stores.”

And some not so local.

While the purpose of the event is to convince Maryville-area residents to spend their dollars at home, Campbell said Shop Hop is attracting a growing number of customers from well out of town.

“It’s become kind of a regional event now,” she said.

Up and down Main Street and on the square, a lot more people were out and about than is usually the case on a Saturday morning. A steady line of customers holding purchases moved toward cash registers in a number of shops, including Minnie Lane, an antique and collectibles business at 112 E. Third St.

“Shop Hop does draw in people,” said owner Melody Blair. “It really does. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Blair, who opened her store three years ago, added that there is definitely more energy downtown these days with the addition of new businesses and a shared sense that store owners need to work together for their common benefit.

“There are more businesses and more people,” Blair said. “We have a good time.”

Another shopping hot spot Saturday was Maryville Florists at 214 N. Main St., where sales clerk Sarah Hertzog did a brisk business from a sidewalk stand outside the shop’s main entrance labeled “Make and Take Flower Market.”

Inside, owner Keitha Clapp had her hands full waiting on customers as well.

A downtown veteran, Clapp has operated Maryville Florists for the past 16 years at its location just south of the square. She said one reason Shop Hop is good for business is that it “brings people in that wouldn’t ordinarily shop here.”

“Oh yes,” she said when asked if downtown has become more vital over the last three or four years. “The ladies are working together, and there is a lot more retail business.”

Coincidentally or not, all 12 businesses that participated in Saturday’s promotion are owned and managed by women. The customers moving between those stores were predominantly female as well. Clapp suggested that may have been because most of the newer shops downtown and along Main Street specialize in boutique items like clothing and home decor.

But regardless of customer demographics, the merchants interviewed for this story agreed that one key to what looks like a downtown retail resurgence has been the willingness of business owners to work cooperatively in promoting the central business district.

“We’ll do great as long as we work together,” said Mindy Hunziger of the Broken Mug Coffee Shop at 106½ N. Main St.

Hunziger, who opened the coffee shop in January, added that she enjoys the ambience of downtown, and believes her customers probably do as well.

“This building has so much character, which I love to work around” she said. “We’re making the old like new.”

Shop Hop takes place only twice a year, but Blue Willow’s Campbell said downtown’s growing business community is excited by the prospect of the traditional business district re-establishing itself as a daily destination location after decades of decline.

“We’ve seen a big improvement, and we’re really excited about it,” she said. “Maryville has some stuff going on now. I’m excited about downtown, and I’m excited about retail.”

This spring’s Shop Hop participants were: Harvest Blessings, Blue Willow Boutique, Envy Apparel, Maryville Florists, Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., Simply Posh Boutique, Barnyard Creations Boutique, Minnie Lane, Home by Sonja, The Broken Mug Coffee Shop, Ferluknat Farm and The Kitchen & Bath Source.

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Staff writer Anthony Brown can be reached at tbrown@maryvilledailyforum.com or by calling the newspaper at 660.562.2424.