Many locally-owned stores view the holiday shopping season as potentially make or break, according to the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association.
“This season really is important,” said Erin Sigrist, the association’s president. “It’s absolutely going to help these businesses decide whether they will continue or if they are going to have to shut the doors.”
Sigrist explained after COVID-19 dealt a huge blow to the tourism sector this summer and fall, many small businesses are teetering on the edge of solvency and looking for a strong holiday season to rebound.
The downtown Burlington store Homeport puts it bluntly.
“Support the things that you like,” Homeport’s Mark Bouchett told NECN affiliate NBC 5 News. “Because if you don’t, they go away.”
Shopping local is vital to generating tax revenues that benefit communities, providing employment, and ensuring vibrant downtown spaces, Sigrist said.
According to the National Retail Federation, more than 186-million Americans went shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. More than half of them chose online shopping only—a more than 40 percent jump, according to the group.
The NRF added that from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, shoppers spent an average of $311.75 on holiday items, most of which was spent on gifts. That figure is down roughly $50 from last year’s figure but is on par with 2018’s, the group noted.
Sigrist said many small Vermont businesses have spent the past several months modernizing their online storefronts to reach more buyers.
COVID-19 in Vermont
The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association pointed to findings from the contact tracers at the Vermont Department of Health that showed most viral transmission happens not in stores, but when friends are hanging out—close and maskless.
For in-person shoppers, retailers insist they’re taking prevention measures really seriously, such as supplying hand sanitizer and requiring mask-wearing.
“And I would contend you can do it in a safe way,” Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said of shopping, during a pandemic response briefing the day after Thanksgiving. “But it’s not going to be the same way you’ve done it in the past. Just follow the guidelines.”
At Kestrel Coffee Roasters, Charlotte Steverson and her husband had to close their two locations for more than two months in the early days of the pandemic.
Yes, federal relief money helped, but Steverson’s now looking to online orders of her holiday gift boxes—with fresh roasted coffee and other treats—for a needed jolt in sales, she said.
“It would really help to be able to end the year on a high note,” Steverson told NECN. “It could be one item for $20, 10 items for $1,000–whatever it is, it really helps. And I know businesses like ours truly appreciate every single order.”
She can count on at least one holiday purchase from Nick Melwood. Shoppers like him, who choose to buy local this year, may have never been more critical to the future of downtowns and Main Streets everywhere.
“I know if I don’t get it to my mother, I’ll be on the naughty list,” Melwood said of the Kestrel coffee he’ll be buying for a gift.