Instead of kicking off the holiday shopping season with a mad rush, retailers said the season typically builds to a crescendo just before Christmas in Ashland, creating a more pleasant shopping experience than standing in line in the cold at 4 a.m. on Black Friday.

Downtown merchants were expecting a busy shopping day today, no pre-dawn openings or "doorbuster deals" required.

Instead of kicking off the holiday shopping season with a mad rush, Ashland retailers said the season typically builds to a crescendo just before Christmas, creating a more pleasant shopping experience than standing in line in the cold at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, so named because it is the day many merchants go "in the black," or turn a profit.

"For us, the day after Thanksgiving isn't the biggest shopping day of the year like it is for the big box stores, but it is a busy day," said Steve Cole, an owner of Soundpeace. "The very busiest days are the days right before Christmas. The last week is our busiest week."

Soundpeace, with its selection of books, music and spiritual gifts, attracts customers shopping for a specific person, looking for the unique gifts that many stores in Ashland offer, Cole said.

"They're not coming here for their big screen TV," he said.

And although the summer months help merchants hit the black before December, the month is still important for sales, Cole said.

"The tourist months are really busy, but this is our busiest month," he said, which to him indicates a strong local clientele.

Even if local shoppers wanted to hit the store early today, the doors weren't open. Soundpeace will open half an hour earlier through Christmas — 9:30 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. — but the change won't take effect until Monday, Cole said. The store does stay open later, however, as Christmas nears.

Claudia McAllister, owner of Horsefeathers of Ashland, said she has had similar experiences and didn't open early today, either.

"We don't do anything special, and it seems to me most of the folks head to the mall," she said. "It picks up closer to Christmas."

Small-town holiday charm gives Ashland the advantage as the holidays near, McAllister said.

"Ashland has a small downtown, it's very accessible and it's very charming with the festival and the lighting," she said. "I think people just like the holiday atmosphere."

In her store, which sells a collection of jewelry, clothing, instruments and Hindu and Buddhist statues, shoppers will not have to elbow each other out of the way for the perfect gift.

"It's not a Black Friday in Ashland," she said. "We have a lot of people come in and say that they don't want to go to the mall. They don't want to deal with the parking, they don't want to deal with the traffic, they don't want to deal with the crowds."

The clothing store Naturals of Ashland has some half-off deals and a $25 coupon for customers who spend $100, but the offer is valid all of November and December — not just today — owner Denise Delzell said.

Maizey's, a home and bath store, will offer sales on selected table linens, bedding and sleepwear, and they're more unique items than are found in a large department store, store manager Kristen Schilling said.

Paddington Station will stay open an extra hour today, until 9 p.m., but without special sales, owner Don Hammond said.

"We have good values at all times; we don't have any special things to lure people in," he said. "We are competing with the mall. We'd like them to come and shop here locally."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.