ready for guests online and in person

Church Street Market in Burlington lights up for Christmas

Workers are turning lights this week on trees along Church Street Market in Burlington in anticipation of the holidays.

Lilly St. Angelo, Burlington Free Press

During the holiday season, the Lake Champlain Chocolates store on Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace is bustling. Shoppers looking to warm their hands stop for a cup of hot chocolate while others peek through the windows, looking for the right combination of treats for someone on their list.

Employees place truffles in boxes with flavors ranging from cappuccino, spicy pumpkin and hazelnut to dark rum and champagne. They grab candy cane chocolate bars as Christmas stockings.

Les Chocolats Champlain join with other local retailers as they prepare for Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday, which traditionally kicks off the peak holiday shopping season.

But last year the store was much quieter.

“Last year we were still haunted by the COVID monster,” said Lilly Sharp, deputy director of Lake Champlain Chocolates.

The joy and energy of the holiday season did not come through physical store doors as much as it usually does in 2020. Online orders and small business support campaigns have supported the chocolate business and well. others last year as the pandemic made it unsafe for customers to shop in person, but interaction with customers was lacking.

“This is obviously something that you don’t get with online shopping,” Sharp said. “You can’t see the community, you can’t talk about the products with people and kind of have that holiday joy.”

With vaccines making in-person interactions safer this year, Sharp and its employees hope people will fill their stores again this holiday season.

What is Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was originally created by American Express during the 2010 recession. The day after Black Friday, it serves as an alternative to the mad rush for bargains at large chain stores and encourages people to buy local while on vacation to support their local economy. The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for local retailers.

Last year, Small Business Saturday was a day to support local retailers hit hard by the pandemic.

In-person shopping was seen as a way of exposing themselves to the virus, and many people stayed at home or limited their groceries to necessities. Many offices have been closed all together, and travel restrictions have made tourism almost non-existent, further reducing the foot traffic so important to storefront businesses.

This year, after nearly two years of adjusting to a new normal, Burlington business owners are ready to welcome customers the way they want, whether online or in person.

New challenges for traders in 2021

The pandemic, while better handled, is not yet over and supply chain issues are creating problems for stores trying to keep their shelves stocked, especially with popular giveaways. These are the new and constant challenges for businesses these days.

Phoenix Books, an independent bookstore in downtown Burlington, has just reinstated its mandate as a mask for all customers with the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

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The store is also encouraging customers to buy their books for the holidays as early as possible, manager Tod Gross said. Customers have bought books in high volumes this year and some highly sought after books, like the new $ 100 book set by Paul McCartney. The lyrics: 1956 to the present day, are almost exhausted.

Bookstores face several challenges along the supply chain, including staffing issues in print shops, paper shortages, and the fact that many books with glossy pages are being printed overseas. Meanwhile, global shipping has slowed dramatically due to several factors linked to the pandemic, including a shortage of truck drivers to move goods out of ports.

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Gross said that due to the slow pace of shipping, Phoenix Books is warning online customers that the store cannot guarantee delivery by Christmas for anything ordered after December 1.

“The issues are different this year,” Gross said. “We are not concerned with demand, we are concerned with supply. Our advice to all of our customers this year is if there is something special you want, get it now.”

“A special opportunity”

Despite some nationwide delivery issues that could plague businesses again this year, Linda Rossi, state director of the Vermont Small Business Development Center, said that overall, small businesses are doing better than last year.

The Vermont Small Business Development Center is a statewide program run by Vermont State Colleges to provide free professional advice and tools to business owners who want to start or grow their business. It is funded in part by federal and state dollars and serves approximately 600 Vermont businesses per year, the majority of which have 20 or fewer employees.

Twenty months after the start of the pandemic, Rossi said it was a time of reset for small businesses working with the center. Many have relied on loans to get through the tough times of the pandemic and are now considering refinancing the loans to save money. They are also assessing whether services such as online ordering and curbside pickup, adopted at the start of the pandemic, should remain.

“I think this year is almost a special occasion to thank the companies for their hard work, creativity and survival and to show how much we rely on them,” said Rossi.

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Rossi said many business owners see that the coping mechanisms that helped them get through the pandemic may continue to be a means of generating income.

“Some of these strategies and some of these adaptations are not just for the pandemic,” Rossi said. “They are really becoming the new business model in the future.”

Rossi said last year, Small Business Saturday was more than just a day – it was a call to action to pick up small businesses during a difficult time. She wants this feeling of solidarity with local businesses to continue this year.

“I hope it goes strong and I hope it continues,” she said. “I hope one of the outcomes of the pandemic is how important small businesses are to all of us.”

Sharp said for Lake Champlain Chocolates, Small Business Saturday will be a recording with the community to see how people shop this year and whether people are still careful when shopping in person.

They also hope to continue their strong online sales that kept them afloat last year. Sharp said, however, that she hopes for the days to fly by due to a constant flow of customers into the store.

“This year we certainly expect a big turnaround,” said Sharp. “We are delighted to be back in the community. “

Contact Urban Change Reporter Lilly St. Angelo at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @lilly_st_ang