Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Businesses in the Mother Lode reported a mostly busy weekend following Black Friday, considered the most important time of the year for retailers.

On Black Friday itself, sales at national retailers were down compared with last year. The drop may be related to the increasing number of sales offered on Thanksgiving Day, with stores such as Walmart starting sales as early as 8 p.m Thursday and taking a bite out Friday numbers.

Many locally owned shops in the Mother Lode were closed Thanksgiving Day, but a number of them noted heavy shopping traffic on all surrounding days. In some cases, the way to holiday shoppers' hearts was through their stomachs.

"We were really busy Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday," said Kelly Smith, manager of the Angels Camp World Mercantile and Gallery of Arts on Highway 49. The shop, run by the nonprofit Buttercup Farms in Walnut Creek, sells both snacks and gift items from around the world.

"We had quite a few tourists," Smith said. "But they weren't buying any gifts - it was mainly food."

Of course, cravings for sweets were the draw to the Candy Vault in downtown Sonora, which had steady shopping traffic from 10 a.m. Friday until the Historic Downtown Sonora Christmas Parade.

The store experienced a "surge" after the parade finished, according to Kim Ungari, an employee.

"It was just the draw from people getting Christmas goodies," she said. The store is now stocked with candy canes in every color of the rainbow.

But some local Sonora businesses said their Black Fridays were slower than last year's and named the parking restrictions from the Christmas parade as one possible cause.

For the second year in a row, parking wasn't allowed on the downtown section of Washington Street between 2 and 8 p.m. The rule is designed to make parade viewing easier and safer, according to the Sonora Police Department. This year was the first that the rule extended to side streets.

"When they closed the streets at 2 (p.m.), that definitely affected things," said Duane Bennett, husband of Dorothea's Christmas owner Marcia Bennett and the son of the shop's namesake.

Dorothea's Christmas, on Washington Street near the Red Church, has detailed sales records dating back about 20 years. Bennett said that in the past, sales were much higher on Black Friday than they were on the following weekends.

Now sales are roughly even between Black Friday and Saturday. Bennett said the shop had a busy weekend this year, selling large quantities of delicate Christmas ornaments that aren't available at places like Walmart.

Downtown Shoes, on Washington Street, had lower sales Friday and Saturday than it did at the same time last year. Store manager Rick Hoppe said he wasn't sure of the cause.

"I've never liked the idea of closing streets on the busiest (shopping) day of the year," Hoppe said of the parking restrictions for the Christmas parade.

However, the shop's Black Friday sales were strong in 2011, the first year the parking restrictions took effect. Hoppe said he fears steeper competition from online retailers such as Zappos.

To encourage support of local business like Downtown Shoes, the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce promoted a "Shop Local Saturday" for the second year in a row.

This year, Tuolumne County's "Shop Local" day was timed to coincide with American Express's "Small Business Saturday" campaign.

"It's an effort to just remind people that usually Black Friday is in connection with the big-box stores," said Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce President George Segarini. "We have the smaller shops here too, and they would love to do business with you."

Segarini said he hadn't done a formal survey of businesses to see what their sales were like, but Shop Local Saturday seemed to be a hit.

"Observing the amount of people that were downtown for Saturday's activities, it appeared to me to be very successful," Segarini said. "The first thing is to get them there, and the second thing is to get them to spend money."

The chamber's marketing committee will soon discuss the outcome of this year's Shop Local Saturday event and decide whether to promote it again, Segarini said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.