SOUTHERN INDIANA — Laura Applegate, co-owner at Regalo, said she wasn’t sure what to expect with holiday sales this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has more people staying indoors and shopping online.
But she said she appreciates the support the community has shown in helping to keep the small, local businesses afloat.
“Its been great,” she said Monday at the New Albany store, just days after Small Business Saturday brought in record sales. “I feel like people really are enthusiastic about supporting small businesses because they know the struggle we’ve been through with the pandemic.”
Regalo, which is based in Southern Indiana and Louisville, was one of many businesses shuttered to the public earlier this year under Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order and limits on which types of businesses could remain open as usual. During that time, many learned how to adapt, providing options for consumers that they hope will help as all continue to push through the pandemic.
The store had sales on Saturday and for Cyber Monday, which helps drive up online revenue after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Regalo has begun curbside service, can ship products and will deliver free within 30 miles. And, this year, all of their products from the stores are also sold online.
While they’ve not had a lot of deliveries, she said shoppers have taken advantage of the curbside service for pickup.
“Customers are glad we’re still here,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of loyal followers. I think everybody’s glad that these businesses down here not only survived but I feel like we’re thriving.”
But it’s something that will have to keep up to help the businesses stay alive and well in Southern Indiana communities.
Jim Benton, co-owner at family-owned jewelry store Benton Jewelers on Court Avenue in Jeffersonville, said the store usually relies on holiday business for about half its sales.
This year has been a bit different so far — while September and October saw a 10% to 12% increase over previous years, “November dropped off,” he said.
“I was very hopeful until the last few weeks. You want to do so much and you hope for the best.”
Being a small, family-owned business, Benton said they have been able to cut the overhead back as far as they can, and the building they’ve been in since 1990 is paid for. They also have a lot of loyal customers and have provided shopping options to optimize safety.
For the many repairs and watch battery replacements they do, Benton said they have worked with customers — who may normally wait inside — to pick up the next day in some cases if they choose, he said. There are also quite a few customers who take advantage of layaway and come in just before Christmas to make that big special purchase.
Some items can be ordered online and picked up at the store with a few weeks to return.
Benjamin Byrn, owner at Dada Boutique in New Albany, said holiday sales were slim throughout November until Small Business Saturday — coinciding with the unveiling of the store’s new floor plan at double the size.
“Usually we have a pretty decent November all the way through and Small Business Saturday is a push,” he said. “This year it kind of fell off in November and then we had a huge surge on Small Business Saturday; it was incredible.”
He said he had been concerned with the pandemic postponing the annual wine walk, an event that happens alongside Small Business Saturday to promote local shops. But the store saw the largest volume day they’ve had in three years at this location.
“Ultimately the community banded together and really showed a support for small businesses that I don’t think any of us were truly anticipating,” he said.
The store has offered online sales the whole time they’ve been open and now has curbside. During the spring lockdown, they also delivered. They’ve also gotten creative with safely engaging with customers.
“We did switch over to doing some Facebook Live sales and taking advantage of the tools the internet provides for us,” he said. “Just layer in that extra option for people who really want to make sure they’re shopping from home but are not super online-savvy and still want that customer interaction or engagement.”
But he said as much as he and other local owners appreciate the support these weeks and months, it’s going to take a shift from consumers to help their community businesses compete with the huge operations.
“My real hope is that people continue to come out and support local, not just that one day but really changing [to] a mindset of ‘could I buy this locally instead of turning to a billion dollar corporation? Could I keep this money within my community?’” he said.
“That’s going to [have to] be a conscious change and a conscious effort that is going to have to be habit-forming, it’s not a one-day push.”