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Basic Bee LLC at 325 S. Division Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. Basic Bee LLC at 325 S. Division Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. PHOTO BY KATE CARLSON

Local retailers gear up for holiday season showing strong consumer confidence

BY Sunday, November 21, 2021 05:40pm

With fewer COVID-19 restrictions on in-person shopping and rising consumer confidence, retail experts and small business owners hope to see an increase in holiday shopping compared to 2020. 

Results of a JLL Inc. survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers show that individual shoppers plan to spend an average of $870 on holiday-related purchases this holiday season — a 25-percent increase from the $694 spent in 2020. Spending forecasts point to a return to pre-pandemic holiday shopping in 2019 when individual shoppers spent an average of $874 on holiday purchases, according to JLL’s survey. 

Renise Warners, who celebrated the one-year anniversary of her Grand Rapids boutique clothing store Basic Bee LLC on Nov. 13, hopes the forecast translates to more spending at locally owned small businesses like hers.

Basic Bee, located at 325 S. Division Ave., is among several stores organizing a Holiday Shop Hop event on Dec. 10 and 11 to help drive more foot traffic along the newly rebranded “SoDiv” commercial corridor between Fulton and Wealthy streets. 

“The holidays are super important for small businesses because it is the biggest shopping season,” Warners said. “You can do great all year, but Christmas is your time to move product.” 

Despite the ease of shopping through big retailers from home, Warners said the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of supporting local businesses.

“I know people have been more intentional now about shopping small and shopping local and doing their part,” Warners said. “I’m banking on that. People really realized during COVID that if you’re not supporting businesses in your community, then they won’t be there. If you want more small businesses that cater to your needs, you have to support the ones you have first.” 

Drawing last-minute shoppers

Warners expects many last-minute shoppers turning to local stores this year, especially in light of supply chain issues and shipping delays affecting larger retailers. 

“I bought a lot of things super early and just have them waiting because I didn’t want to get stuck,” Warners said of her inventory. “I hope people really take the time to think about where they are shopping and try to look for things at local stores before turning to larger retailers.”

Kathleen Roark, director of engagement at Grand Rapids-based nonprofit People First Economy, said the pandemic has highlighted the importance for consumers to express their values with their dollar.

“I think that will be a big factor, however, our local businesses that are working to change the industry standards are still competing with companies like Amazon for convenience,” Roark said. 

Roark agreed that local businesses could draw more last-minute shoppers because of supply chain issues that will likely affect national retailers more.

“All of our businesses here that are locally owned have stock on hand right now and are better equipped to mitigate issues people are seeing with supply chain and shipping delays,” Roark said. 

The 12th House GR LLC Owner Sarah Cash told MiBiz that the 57 local artisans who sell their handmade goods at her store have been able to source materials without much difficulty. 

In January 2021, Cash lost her second job since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and decided to open her own business at 8 Jefferson Ave. SE in downtown Grand Rapids. Cash opened The 12th House, which is an eclectic bohemian store of mostly handmade goods from local artisans, in June. 

“It’s not going to be easy if this Christmas is not successful for sales,” Cash said. “The more local stuff that I can sell, it goes right back into the community. And we have some really talented artists here in the Grand Rapids area.”

Q4 influx

Many locally owned stores were left out last year because of limitations on in-person shopping and the relative ease of shopping with major retailers online, said Heather TenHarmsel, the owner of The Poppy Peach LLC clothing boutique.

TenHarmsel relocated her store — which also sells a range of accessories and decor — last month from Holland Township to a storefront on East Eighth Street in downtown Holland. 

“Keeping things local just recirculates the money you were already going to spend back into our local economy,” TenHarmsel said. “It’s not only supporting me, it’s supporting my employees that live locally and have kids that go to the local schools.”

Alyson Presser, marketing manager of Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, said foot traffic has already increased based on consumers’ desire for in-person shopping this year.

“We are anticipating the crowds being larger than last year, and we’re encouraging people to shop early to ensure there is availability of what they’re looking for,” Presser said. 

In JLL’s consumer survey, 60 percent of respondents plan to order gifts online, but more plan to also do some form of shopping at a physical store. About half of shoppers also plan to shop on Black Friday, which is up 10 percentage points from last year.

“There is a willingness and determination for the community to come out and support (local businesses) by using their dollars this year,” Roark said. “Really it is the holiday season that most of our retailers bring in the bulk of their revenue. They depend on the influx this fourth quarter to keep their doors open.” 

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