HUDSON -- The holiday season is usually a time of excitement for The Purple Tree on Second Street. Staff will be in the midst of shifting the store, bustling around to make room for new products and for the rush of customers who come to soak it all up.
“In year’s past it’s been an exciting, kind of frenzied feel,” Owner Sarah Bruch said.
This year, though, things will look different for The Purple Tree and many other area small businesses.
Holiday shopping, like so many aspects of life, will be impacted by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, with local business owners getting creative to find ways to serve their customers, keep their businesses running and follow safety guidelines.
This time of year is one of the most important for businesses, serving as a bright spot in sales for retailers, according to Insider Trends.
For a toy store like The Fox Den in River Falls, the holidays are the biggest time of year. The Fox Den, like many other stores, makes most of its profits in the fourth quarter.
“We really roll out all the stops,” owner James Williams said. “Having all kids of events and special offerings in order to really make the most of the Holiday shopping.”
The Purple Tree Usually brings in 50-60% of its business in a six-week window.
“We’re having to relook at how we’re going to staff, how we’re going to bring in funds while keeping our employees safe and our guests safe,” Bruch said.
Many small, local businesses are offering different ways to shop this way, from in-store appointments to curbside pickup.
The Fox Den has limited its store capacity to five people at a time, saying goodbye to crowds of Christmas past, but it’s also offering Facebook shopping.
“It’s incredible how much Facebook worked out for us,” Williams said.
The Purple Tree has grown its online store, though it’s not able to sell clothing through that medium.
The Purple Tree is also offering virtual shopping. With it, shoppers can video call with an employee who will take them around the store and give them a full virtual shopping experience.
Both stores are offering curbside pickup, as well as in-store shopping appointments before or after normal hours.
They’re trying to make things as easy as they can to shop locally, and still have some of the big-box benefits, Bruch said.
“There’s always the worry that this kind of thing generally will encourage the concerning trend that we’ve always had of people deciding to shop online with Amazon and other retailers,” Williams said.
The Purple Tree is working to keep up with product trends this year, offering items that are about experiences. Games, puzzles, readings, and do it yourself projects are expected to be popular.
This year it will be important for customers to shop early, Bruch and Williams said. Both have been told by vendors that restocking will not be easy, as vendors anticipate potential closures and supply chain disruptions.
No official kickoff event
In Hudson, the Christmas Tour of Homes normally kicks off the shopping season and serves as the best sales weekend for many area businesses, Hudson Chamber Director Mary Claire Olson Potter said. With the event cancelled this year, Potter said the chamber is working to support businesses and promote that consumers can still shop in Hudson.
“We really need to support these small businesses that are really the fabric of the Hudson community,” Potter said.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is also working to promote small businesses, with it’s “We’re All In” Initiative. It will highlight local businesses around the state, and has provided more than $80 million in relief to small businesses.
“The holiday shopping season is a great time to remember how important our local businesses are, whether it’s that special bakery, gift shop or restaurant, and what they mean to our communities,” WEDC CEO Missy Hughes said.
Though the year has been strange and difficult, both Bruch and Williams said they’ve seen great support from their customers.
“Considering all that has been going on, it’s just been incredible,” Williams said.
Customers called to buy gift cards while stores were fully closed during the shutdown, and sales have remained good, even without Fox Den’s usual big events.
Customers have stepped up to the plate to keep The Purple Tree’s doors open, Bruch said.
“We feel the love,” Bruch said. “And I know other retailers in our community feel the same way.”