Sonoma County Retailers Are Feeling Happy This Holiday Season With Good Foot Traffic

With just over a week to go to Christmas, Drew Washer said she was happy with the pace of holiday sales at her Heebe Jeebe toy and gift shop in downtown Petaluma, especially after another tough year in retail.

Washer’s hopeful outlook comes as brick-and-mortar dealers still haven’t fully recovered from the economic fallout from the pandemic – and concern is now mounting over the spread of the omicron variant.

Washer suffered another blow during the historic October Atmospheric River. A leak in the roof of his store caused thousands of dollars in damage. She is still arguing with her insurer over this matter.

His business, however, has increased sales by around 30% from previous years as last-minute shoppers seek Christmas stockings and fancy gifts. Top sellers this year include whoopee cushions and squeeze balls designed to relieve stress.

“My store operates on inspiration. It’s not a formula store, ”said Washer, a toy seller since 1999.“ We live in a great neighborhood. We have challenges. … I think we are quite optimistic in our community and quite forward-thinking.

In Sonoma County, other independent retailers shared their hopes for sustained activity in the midst of a pivotal season for their results. The months of November and December account for nearly 20% of overall retailer sales over the past five years, according to the National Retail Federation.

The trade group noted that 179.8 million shoppers made in-store and online purchases over Thanksgiving weekend, 21 million more than expected. But that turnout was lower than the 186.4 million buyers in 2020, as pent-up consumer demand, savings and government assistance combined in the pandemic’s first year to fuel an aggressive surge. end-of-year purchases.

In addition to being a good barometer of the sentiment of the average consumer, local retailing also plays a key role in the economy of Sonoma County. About 23,000 local workers work in the retail trade, which represents about 11% of the total.

Retailers are also a backbone for downtown development, from the Wine Country destinations of Sonoma and Healdsburg to the on-going urban revitalization in spurts of Santa Rosa.

“It’s important depending on how our infrastructure moves downtown,” said Robert Eyler, an economist at Sonoma State University who studies the local economy.

The future of the retail space will be a pressing issue in the era of COVID-19, especially with more and more people shopping online, Eyler added.

Traditional shopping malls such as Santa Rosa Plaza have been hit particularly hard by store closings, although open-air malls that focus on local retailers such as Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa and The Barlow in Sebastopol have fallen. better shot.

“There are a lot of different angles on retailing brick and mortar, especially locally,” Eyler said.

Local retailers said they are seeing an increase in sales in 2021 compared to previous years. Bernie Schwartz, owner of California Luggage Co. on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, said he has seen increased traffic in stores as people look to travel more in the New Year.

“Travel has been on people’s minds for quite a while now. And with the increase in vaccination, there are more possibilities, although international travel is still lagging behind, but looming on the horizon, ”said Schwartz, whose store has been located downtown since. 41 years.

“It’s been a steady rise throughout the year, but from August I would say we started beating 2019 (numbers),” Schwartz said.

His company overcame supply chain issues that rocked other retailers, including car sales.

The crisis has delayed imports from Asia, with ships piling up in major ports. Truck drivers and warehouse space were also scarce.

“Our strategy was to overorder like crazy, starting in the spring,” said Schwartz. “We are in pretty good shape.

The washer said it also placed its orders early and used multiple dispensers, although this resulted in some popular products arriving at the same time, as opposed to staggered arrivals like in previous years.

The view from Copperfield’s Books, with 10 locations in North Bay, can serve as another snapshot of the region’s economy. The Sevastopol store switched to online sales at the start of the pandemic and struggled under a December 2020 public health order that required retailers to limit foot traffic to 20% of their capacity during the peak of l Last winter, putting the brakes on vacation sales, co-owner Paul Jaffe mentioned.

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