The women at Retro Now were thrilled with the activity at their Martinez store Saturday.

“It’s been a great day — all these people here, a lot of foot traffic, the weather’s been great — what more could you ask for?” said Carolyn Hill, owner of this antique/collectibles shop where several women rent display space as part of what they call a collective. “It’s a good sign, and it’s an encouragement after how it’s been the last several months.”

About two dozen businesses — retailers, boutiques, restaurants, microbreweries, personal services businesses — took part in the Martinez event held over Thanksgiving weekend. And in a downtown area that on a typical Saturday can be pretty sleepy, with its lifeblood of county government offices and courts closed and the weekly Farmers Market bringing people to Main Street on most Sundays, was on this Saturday afternoon fairly vibrant, with pedestrians outnumbering cars. Salons were buzzing; outdoor eating and drinking were popular at two breweries near the Amtrak station; A live three-piece band, the Leone Brothers, was playing outside Retro Now; inside, there was free gift wrapping and free candy.

Next door, at the White Rabbit Boutique, it was also a pretty crowded shop, with a line at the register and activity — “A lot more people than the usual Saturday,” said Shannon Crofton as she operated the register.

“Considering the year, with the COVID and everything else, which has been trying, it’s been a good outcome today,” Crofton said.

Shoppers wait in line to get into the Mighty Market in downtown Martinez during Small Business Saturday.

A chance to strut their stuff

Downtown Martinez is nothing but small businesses, and before the pandemic-related health orders came down starting in March, the long-sleepy downtown had been on the upswing, with a number of new restaurants, breweries, a wine bar and salons bringing people downtown.

Small Business Saturday, merchants said, was a welcome opportunity for these sellers to show off what they had for people looking for gifts and to get out of the house.

“I can tell people are excited just to get out, to feel somewhat normal.”

Rachel Lowenthal, Faded Gold Vintage

“It’s enjoyable to see what these (merchants) have for sale, and that they’re working together,” said Russ Everson of Pleasant Hill, who with family members visited several shops Saturday afternoon. The merchants’ wares, he said, are largely different than what chain stores offer.

Rachel Lowenthal, who opened the Faded Gold Vintage store about two months ago, said downtown Martinez merchants stick together and support each other. She admits opening her small shop during COVID-19 was tough, but said that if she hadn’t lost her office job as the result of the pandemic, she may never have made the move.

Lowenthal, too, said she got a lot of response Saturday. “I can tell people are excited just to get out, to feel somewhat normal,” she said.

All merchants queried Saturday said they didn’t know whether the increased foot traffic will translate into significant additional sales numbers. But it certainly can’t hurt, they said, and the exposure should help, at least somewhat, in future weeks and months.

“This has given us a sense of hope,” White Rabbit’s Crofton said.