Businesses brace for an odder, more online 2020 shopping season

‘Our small retailers need help; they need our support’

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 18, 2020

  Toy Box, a specialty toy store that recently moved from Lakeside Mall to across the street in Utica, is among the many local small businesses that are navigating an unusual holiday shopping season.

Toy Box, a specialty toy store that recently moved from Lakeside Mall to across the street in Utica, is among the many local small businesses that are navigating an unusual holiday shopping season.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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STERLING HEIGHTS — ’Tis the season for social distancing, yet many businesses are reportedly bracing themselves for a busy holiday shopping season, even when more of that will be conducted online.

According to the Michigan Retail Index, many responding retailers in the state expressed cautious optimism for the season. According to the index, 49% are expecting a rise in sales during the holiday season, 31% expect a decrease and 20% expect the status quo.

“Many hope that consumers will shop early; if they wait until the last minute, they may run into shipping issues or product shortages of popular items,” the MRI announced in an Oct. 21 statement.

Ron Manoviec, the owner of Toy Box in Utica, said his store was located inside Lakeside Mall during Christmas 2019. But in the last several weeks, Toy Box moved kitty corner across the Schoenherr Road-Hall Road intersection and is now part of the Shelby Corners plaza, he said.

Manoviec said that, so far, this shopping season has been a little different in other ways, too.

“The supply chains are broken, so the toy shortages are already happening,” he said. “We’re really getting half of what we order. … The stuff is just not there.”

However, he said his toy store got lucky in that, while it canceled out orders at its old location as part of the move, a lot of supply came anyway. So the business “ended up getting double.”

This means that his store has stocked toys that are becoming rare elsewhere, such as Playmobil toys.

“This is turning out to be a blessing,” he explained. “Some things are already sold out on Amazon.”

Besides inventory issues, the COVID-19 pandemic looms heavily in the background for a lot of businesses as state officials continue to react to it.

On Nov. 15, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced new safety restrictions via a three-week epidemic order, effective Nov. 18. The order affects some businesses and activities in reaction to the fact that the state’s coronavirus case counts recently surged.

While the new rules weren’t as tight as the lockdown last spring, facilities such as bowling alleys, movie theaters, casinos, nightclubs and arcades were ordered to close. Retail shopping was still permitted, so long as businesses abide by regulations and capacity requirements, and people wear facemasks and practice social distancing.

With Christmas just weeks away, Stacy Ziarko, the president and CEO of the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce, summarized what businesses have been telling her about the season. She encouraged the public to buy from local businesses.

“I think everyone expects this holiday season to look a little different,” she said, adding that the chamber soon plans to kick off its annual Shop Local campaign.

“Lakeside, they’re being creative on how to attract foot traffic into the mall. Some of our large-box stores, they’re still very busy. Our small retailers need help; they need our support.”

Ziarko said the chamber has lately been busy facilitating its Online Business Connect Grant campaign. She said the program has given around 600 Macomb County businesses access to a $10,000 grant to develop their online presence, be it a new website, social media or ecommerce.

Ziarko, the grant campaign’s manager, said she got the idea when she tried to order some food from a local restaurant, Bistro Orleans in Sterling Heights, during quarantine, but couldn’t find a menu online.

“We had to hunt for it,” she said. “They’re the reason this whole project had started. They are one of the folks that is getting a new website.”

Since then, a wide gamut of businesses ranging from restaurants, manufacturers, beauty salons, karate studios and more are now able to upgrade so they can conduct holiday business, Ziarko said.  

“So many of our businesses are going to have a better holiday season than they may have expected,” Ziarko said. “It’s very, very cool to watch.”

Find out more about the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce by visiting www.shrcci.com or by calling (586) 731-5400. Learn more about Toy Box by visiting www.toyboxmichigan.com.

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