The Cheese Lady Farmington owner Kendra Mantey puts together a holiday gift basket behind the counter with her husband, Joe.

The Cheese Lady Farmington owner Kendra Mantey puts together a holiday gift basket behind the counter with her husband, Joe.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

Shops adapt, look to Small Business Saturday for support

Owners say shopping local keeps downtowns alive

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published November 20, 2020


FARMINGTON — The economic climate for businesses has certainly shifted since the start of the pandemic, but arguably no other sector has been shortchanged more than small businesses and local shops, who rely heavily on local foot traffic.

Heading into Small Business Saturday Nov. 28 as the state announced a three-week shutdown of certain operations, many local shop owners, like Michele Hinds, at The Vines Flower & Garden Shop in Farmington, are left questioning what that may mean for their upcoming holiday sales.

“This is all new territory. … We’re decorated for Christmas, but we can’t just look at last year’s book and say, ‘OK, order this.’ Who knows? We have just been kind of day to day, week to week,” Hinds said. “It’s kind of a guessing game, even pre-ordering all the cases of evergreens for the holidays.”

Hinds added that Mother’s Day, when her shop first reopened, saw a large number of sales that caught everyone, even her vendors, off guard. She’s uncertain however, if that will be the case moving into Christmas.

Data from the National Retail Federation states that holiday sales represent about 20% of annual retail sales each year, with some retailers like hobby, toy and game stores totaling about 30% of sales. Data from a Google survey indicates, however, that the pandemic has changed how customers plan to spend their holiday shopping this season, and it could be in small businesses’ favor.

While 75% of the surveyed shoppers said they plan to shop online more this season, 66% of survey respondents indicated they plan to shop more at local, small businesses.

Unfortunately, while shopping small may be on the upswing, that could be complicated by the number of patrons shops can have in store at once with social distancing.

The Cheese Lady Farmington owner Kendra Mantey said it’s hard to determine right now whether the state’s new order will impact her sales moving into the holidays. Mantey doesn’t plan to close, but she said she’ll be much more strict about the three person maximum she has on in-store patrons, a rule she’s had since the pandemic started.

“With Shop Small, in years past we’ve felt so loved and we’ve had a lot of people come through on that day,” Hinds added. “This year, I don’t know. Do we put a limit on the door and only let some many people in (at once)? I think that’s something we should consider, because it can get pretty congested.”

Following those highly recommended health strategies could bode well for shop owners like Hinds and Mantey. According to data from Radial, an omnichannel commerce company that surveyed more than 1,000 consumers about their shopping plans during the pandemic, 63% of respondents said they were more likely to purchase from stores they knew were following COVID-19 safety precautions.

Still, uncertainty looms as to whether locals will stroll into town to shop in-store for the holidays, which has led to Hinds and Mantey finding alternative ways to adapt and get their products into consumers’ laps.

Joe Mantey, Kendra’s husband, explained that The Cheese Lady’s primary holiday business comes from trays for parties and catering. However, with little to no large gatherings taking place this year, they’re expecting to see a decrease in orders. Instead, they’ve shifted to creating and offering cheese and wine baskets, which can be ordered online and picked up contactless outside of the store. Kendra said the store did a trial run of the baskets Nov. 14 for their six-year anniversary, and they were well-received. They sold about 60 baskets.

Over at The Vines, Hinds’ new online subscription program has been a success, she said. The subscription bouquets have made up for the revenue lost from cancelled weddings, graduations and other events. Bouquet subscriptions can be purchased for weekly, bi-weekly or monthly installments, and can either be picked up or delivered. There are two bouquet choices, for $25 or $45 each.

As small businesses across the greater Farmington area gear up for Small Business Saturday in the middle of a pandemic, Kendra said local customers’ support is evermore important this year. She said it’s important to support small businesses to have a beautiful, thriving downtown.

Hinds agreed, stating customers should shop local this holiday season “to try to keep your downtown as alive as possible.”

“It’s for all the residents’ best interest that they have a viable downtown,” she said.