In a 2020 holiday shopping season that promises to be unlike any other, retailers in Berks County and neighboring communities are lobbying for consumers' dollars with promises of convenience and gift ideas that aren't found online.
Whether the offers can entice the masses to visit brick-and-mortar stores, some in out-of-the-way locations — with the U.S. in the midst of a Reppert's Candy in rural Oley Township. "We're going to push the 'shop local' thing over Thanksgiving to try to get the word out."
Many prognosticators are predicting less foot traffic for brick-and-mortar stores this year, a continuing trend further exacerbated by COVID-19.
The pandemic ballooned consumer reliance on e-commerce and may make shoppers reluctant to face crowds, or even strain their finances, noted an October report by CBRE Group, the world's largest commercial real estate services and investment firm.
"COVID-19 shifted consumer shopping patterns and forced greater adoption of e-commerce across all generations, which sustained retailers that had functioning multichannel platforms during store closures," according to the report.
Still, many local, small businesses are finding ways to push back against that narrative.
"We're going to start doing more social media advertising to get our name out there, as well as advertise the fact that we have curbside pick-up and an online retail store," Schell said.
Check store hours, policies and availability
Like many businesses, Reppert's Candy added curbside pick-up and online ordering options at the onset of pandemic, and in general, retailers signaled more of the same systems and precautions that have been in place since as long ago as March or April in many cases.
Beyond curbside pick-up and online ordering, that might also mean reduced hours or by-appointment only at some locations. MADE Jewelry Boutique & Studio in West Reading, for example, remains open on an appointment basis, even offering to arrange video consults with customers.
Limited inventory could be an issue, too, especially as the holidays draw nearer. JB's Bike Shop in Shillington had previously cut its showroom floor hours to three days per week in part because product has been finite for months.
"It's not as bad as it was in the spring and summer," said Justin Bernardo, owner of JB's Bike Shop, of low inventory, adding the store is stocked up on accessories such as helmets and cold-weather riding gear.
"People have gotten smart about checking to see if we carry something, then buying it right away," said Bernardo, expressing optimism there are enough bikes to get through the holidays, too.
Another reminder: masks remain mandatory inside most businesses — and may even make a decent stocking stuffer in this unusual holiday season, some retailers are finding.
"Masks are required, and they're a big seller for us," said Joy Bailey, owner of Uniquely Local in Kenhorst, which also offers online ordering with shipping or in-store pick-up. "Other than that, we don't see a real big impact."
Unique, one-of-a-kind gifts and experiences are popular
Even with so many convenient ways to buy from local retailers, ultimately it's the products people can't order on Amazon and buy from the big chains that many small businesses are looking to promote this season.
A store like Uniquely Local selling one-of-a-kind items that aren't available anywhere else may benefit from trends some see as pointing toward interest in more personalized gift ideas.
"I think a lot of the gifts are for 电子货币交易平台apphome entertainment and enjoyment," Bailey said. "People are stuck at 电子货币交易平台apphome more. They're looking for things to decorate the walls, make spaces more comfortable and enjoyable. Or entertainment, like crafting.
"That's pretty much our niche. Everything here is locally made by hand. Everything is one-of-a-kind. Even if there's something similar of the same vein, it's all a little bit different."
Recognizing the need to grab shoppers' attention, others are turning to specialty products.
Folino Estate — a winery and gift shop in Greenwich Township, with a second location, Vintner's Table in Phoenixville, Montgomery County — naturally can sell gift cards to its restaurant, which began offering outdoor seating by the vineyard during the pandemic.
"It's creating that getaway for people who can't travel right now," said Andrea Folino, co-owner of Folino Estate, which also sells wine and select items online. "We've actually pulled from a much wider geographic area. We saw a lot of people coming from Philadelphia for first time because we create such a destination, a nice escape they could drive to."
But the Folinos also decided to get creative when the coronavirus arrived, and wound up stumbling upon a new product that doubles as a great gift idea and can sell year-round.
"A popular item that has been selling for us are sangria kits," Folino said. "It turned into a great thing that we're keeping, and we made a white chocolate cranberry sangria kit for the holidays."
Business owners ask consumers to shop local
Reppert's Candy is among the businesses offering something new by opening up a "secret menu" item of sorts to customers who make the trip — Grandma's cream cheese peanut butter balls.
The confectionary was previously available by private order only. However, Schell expressed concern that due to the store's rural location and issues stemming from COVID-19, interest in their product may be diminished this year.
"We've always been a destination location as opposed to a location where people just drive by and get their candy," Schell said.
Folino Estate faces its own challenges with winter coming, dining rooms across the state stuck at 50% capacity and outdoor dining likely to take a hit. Still, the restaurant will try to create the festive atmosphere that makes it more than a place to eat and shop, but an attraction.
"We're a popular destination for the holidays," Folino said. "We really decorate and go all out, and we're doing our best to keep that holiday cheer as much as we can."
More still will use the upcoming Black Friday and Small Business Saturday on Nov. 27 and 28 to drum up business, as well as use those occasions to remind shoppers that local businesses need the support of their communities.
"We're playing Plinko for raffle prizes, giving away poinsettias with a $50 purchase, and a lot of other fun things those two days," Bailey said. "I know a lot of other businesses do as well.
"So if you're going out, think about spending money locally. Every dollar you spend is going back into the community, rather than shopping on Amazon or big box stores where most of the money leaves the community."