As the second holiday season of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches and shoppers around the world search for the perfect gift, business owners are crossing their fingers that this search ends in their stores.
As things improve for small business owners, many are still struggling to get back to normal numbers and are hoping Small Business Saturday and the holiday season gets them there.
Shannon Arenburg, owner of Sweet Lydia dessert shop, said the peak in holiday sales has already started. People started ordering for Christmas and other holiday desserts in mid-October, she said; the store also sells cheese through a partnership with Mill City Cheesemongers and has sold over a dozen charcuterie boards for Thanksgiving.
Yet as sales pick up, Arenburg said the store has had to adjust its business model because in a normal year most of its sales would be made to people walking through the door to an event to collect a gift. . During the pandemic, when there were no events to attend, almost all of Sweet Lydia’s sales were online.
“Now we’re in a weird hybrid year, where some people are coming in and some people are ordering online. We have to make everything work at the same time to tick all the boxes, so it’s very frantic, ”she said. “We’re just happy that people are still looking for ways to come together to some extent and include us. “
At Bernard Jewelers in Tewksbury, people also started their holiday shopping early, owner Alex Rizzuto said. She said the store has increased its hours of operation to give shoppers more leeway and that she expected to see more foot traffic than normal on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.
“The people getting ready and the gift shopping start earlier this year,” Rizzuto said. “They know people are understaffed, so they look early. “
In some ways, the long-term planning movement helps small business owners. In an age of pervasive supply chain issues, knowing what will be required is essential.
The Command D comic book store in Dracut is a perfect example. Manager Tony Couzo said the store has done much better than other industries during the pandemic as people trapped at home desperately seek any form of entertainment.
“We have entertainment you can take home and enjoy, and you don’t have to sit in a crowded movie theater,” he said. “People are hungry for things to do, so collecting has become more important. We’re doing pretty well and things are finally improving.
The big deal, Couzo said, was getting the inventory the store needed. Due to paper shortages, some publishers print their comics on demand and others limit releases to small batches.
“Basically we need customers to make sure they know what they want well in advance,” he said. “You can’t hear about something the day it is released and expect us to have it. People are lining up to pick up the hot stuff.
Paper isn’t the only thing disrupting the supply chain. Christmas trees themselves are limited this year, and at Buzz + Thrive Gardens in Leominster, co-owner Patrick Hillman said they couldn’t get as many as usual due to the high prices.
To make up for the loss of one of its big sellers, Buzz + Thrive has other products like the many indoor houseplants in its greenhouse and has a Small Business sale on Saturday.
Last year, the company tried to increase online sales, as its regular farmers markets and festivals were all canceled, but it wasn’t the only one to do so.
“Through the pandemic, so many companies started selling houseplants, so there was a huge explosion with it,” Hillman said. “There was a lot more competition with online sales, especially with selling plants on Etsy and Facebook Marketplace. There are many platforms where you can sell plants online. We did well, but returned to our bread and butter, which is the storefront and farmers’ markets. “
Big online sellers like Amazon hurt many small businesses. Patty, a manager of Dancer’s Boutique in Fitchburg who declined to use her last name, said the store owner was working diligently to expand the store’s social media presence to combat competition from big names .
“We have to work harder and harder to get to where we want to be,” she said. “It comes and goes. We hope to be on the rise, but compared to where we were, we are still not there. We go up the ladder, but we go up slowly.
On the positive side, some companies report that their customers are aware of the problem and that it has actually helped them land new business. Matt Varrell, owner of Harvard Alpaca Ranch, said his farm was able to reopen faster than many other businesses because his tours were one of the few safe and family-friendly outdoor activities in the area.
“Since we reopened we’ve been busier than ever,” said Varrell. “Around this time last year, we certainly had hopes that the general public would understand the need to support small businesses, and we certainly felt it. There were people coming up and saying, I want to support your business rather than buying online or going to a big box store, and we hope for the same this year.
Jenna Charon, owner of Southern Daisies Boutique in Leominster, a luxury consignment store, said she has also seen more and more traffic in her store. The store opened just three months before the start of the pandemic, so she is happy she was able to keep the doors open.
“We have been very busy for the past two months,” she said. “I think people are ready to go back to the real world. I think people crave normalcy.
At The Barn Door in Pepperell, which also opened during the pandemic, CEO Steve Dahlgren had a similar experience. He said the delicatessen’s sales have been steadily increasing every week for the past two months since opening its beer and wine section. He and the store owners are planning a Christmas fair on December 11 for local artisans to show off their work and attract even more customers.
“We expect December to be the best month so far,” said Dahlgren. “In retail, as I’ve always seen, Thanksgiving is the Christmas dress rehearsal. Thanksgiving has been extremely successful, and Christmas is more of a party of gifts anyway… It has been a major blessing.