Local retailers reported a booming holiday shopping season despite worries about the economy, although bad weather and freezing temperatures going into the home stretch before Christmas did put a damper on sales for some.
A lack of last minute Christmas Eve shoppers, especially men, was a trend reported by multiple store owners in the county. Consumers shopping locally tended to trend toward actual, tangible gifts this year, instead of gift cards.
The final two Thursdays heading into the holiday were marred by bad weather that created hazardous road conditions. Temperatures dipped to the single digits in the final days leading up to Christmas.
Overstock Market Boutique and Gift Shop owner Jamie Konicky said the snow and ice were her biggest adversary this year.
“I think the weather probably did some damage on retail shopping, for sure. I had to close one day entirely, and the other day we were opened very limited hours, so that hurts.”
Founder’s Crossing owner Sharon Payne said the last-minute nature of the storms followed by the bitter temperatures meant there was no “recovery day” for sales.
In downtown Bedford, Magpie’s Boutique owner Myranda Walker said “I had more foot traffic on Christmas Eve than I expected, especially with these cold temperatures.”
Businesses had to adapt to survive the pandemic, and shop owners used some of the tricks they learned to create new business opportunities that are still serving them well today.
At Peppercorn Market, COVID created a significant shift in marketing tactics, and owner Tyna Walker-Lay said maintaining those enhanced services beyond the lockdowns have served her business well.
“During that time we just got really, really resourceful,” Walker-Lay explained. Her daughter created a website; the store offered a home delivery option and met people at the business, even in the middle of the night.
“We would do whatever people needed or wanted during that time to adapt to the circumstances. It’s not that it’s a huge thing but for the people it matters to … we’ll adapt,” Walker-Lay said.
Addictive Apparel owner Nicole Smith said the pandemic prompted them to hold live online shopping events that she still continues twice a week for her customers.
“Those people kept our business alive, and I can’t take that away from them. They like it so we still do it,” Smith said.
The pandemic might also have contributed to the robust sales numbers despite the economy.
“I’ve kind of gathered that people are starting to see a little bit of a dip (in sales) but also, being cooped up for so long with COVID, that’s the driving force for keeping people out and about,” The Everett Area Better Business Association President Kaci Batzel said.
“I think people are excited to be out and about shopping again,” Smith said. “They seemed to miss the in-store shopping. And everyone was in a good mood. That was nice.”
Bedford and Everett both have organizations working to funnel business into the downtowns, putting an effort into enticing people to shop locally, which is a boon during the holiday season. EABBB and Downtown Bedford Inc. both created hometown Christmas events meant to bring the community together while shops are open to create a festive holiday shopping experience.
“The turnout was incredible, even with the 20 to 30 mph winds that day,” Batzel said of the Home for Christmas event. The organization shifted the annual downtown event in Everett to Black Friday this year and closed the street for the day, inviting in vendors to complement the brick and mortar stores.
DBI President Lindsay Salas said she ran a Shop Small Crawl in Bedford that offered prizes to participants who paid $10 for a tote bag, then collected pins to be entered into a drawing for prizes. About 40 people participated in the inaugural event.
“It did get people shopping locally in the small stores,” Salas said. She heard from some participants that there were stores in town they had never heard of but will continue to patronize.
“I think people are not necessarily hitting the chain stores as much anymore. I think the shop small movement really caught on during the pandemic,” Walker suggested.
Some stores reported higher sales than last year, some lower, but overall people tended to gravitate toward gifts this year, instead of gift certificates.
“We did a lot of gift cards but I feel the people still want to give that gift that is something tangible that they can open. I think people still like to come in and shop for something that has meaning for the person they’re buying for,” Walker said.
Serafina Art Studio owner Jessica Benton said she advertised only by word of mouth and Facebook to sell gift certificates for her art classes, which were mostly snapped up by parents and grandparents interested in giving children an experience over another toy.
“I think, especially with the grandparents, it’s that the kids love art and they thought, ‘what a neat idea to give their kids that experience,’ ” Benton said. She said people see the joy expressed by the students, and family members want to support the confidence that comes with children expressing themselves through art.
Some of her current students created gifts for their family’s during class, so it’s a gift that sometimes gives back, Benton said.
Store owners said they didn’t track the types of gifts purchased, whether it was fewer higher priced items, or more smaller trinkets, that ended up under the tree this year.
Smith said one-sized fits all gifts such as hats and mittens were a hit. Walker-Lay said they have put an emphasis on diversification at Peppercorn Market, so at-home gourmet chefs can find what they need, but there are still plenty of gift items for those who want a token to take home for friends of family.
Payne said the average cost consumers paid per item was down, but “people that have money were spending money and people who needed to just tighten down, that cost of sale was lower.”
Last minute shopping definitely took a hit, which was most likely a result of the weather. The traditionally ubiquitous husband buying a gift for his wife on Christmas Eve was a scarce sight this year compared to past seasons.
“Usually that’s a men’s shopping day, and it was different than years before. There weren’t as many of them,” Smith noted.
Konicky said now that Christmas is over, it’s time to look forward. For her, that means engaging the women.
“The moms have been focusing on everyone else since October. Maybe they have a little money from Christmas and they can spoil themselves a little bit,” Konicky said.
Overall one sentiment was echoed across the board, and that was gratitude from the shop keepers toward their customers. Each one expressed thanks to those who take the time to support their shops and keep them in business, not just during the Christmas season, but all year.