Holiday season

Sonoma County retailers are feeling jolly this holiday season with good foot traffic

With just over a week to go until Christmas, Drew Washer said she was pleased 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 optimistic outlook comes as brick-and-mortar merchants have yet to fully recover from the economic fallout from the pandemic – and concern is now mounting over the spread of the omicron variant.

The washer suffered another major blow during October’s historic 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 case.

Her business, however, has seen a roughly 30% jump in sales from previous years as last-minute shoppers seek Christmas stockings and novelty gifts. Top sellers this year include whoopee cushions and squeezable balls designed to relieve stress.

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

Across Sonoma County, other independent retailers shared their buoyant business hopes amid a crucial season for their bottom line. 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 shopped in-store and online over the Thanksgiving weekend, 21 million more than expected. But that turnout was lower than the 186.4 million shoppers in 2020 as pent-up consumer demand, savings and government assistance combined in the first year of the pandemic to fuel an aggressive surge. purchases at the end of the year.

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

Retailers are also the backbone of downtown development, from the wine destinations of Sonoma and Healdsburg to the on-going urban revitalization in fits and starts in Santa Rosa.

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

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

Traditional malls such as Santa Rosa Plaza have been particularly hard hit by store closures, although outdoor malls that focus on local retailers such as Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa and The Barlow in Sebastopol have held up better.

“There are a lot of different angles on brick-and-mortar retail, especially local ownership,” 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’s seen an increase in store traffic as people look to travel more in the new year.

“Travel has been on people’s minds for quite some time now. And with increased vaccination, there are more opportunities, although international travel is still lagging but on the horizon,” said Schwartz, whose store has been downtown for 41 years.

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

His business has overcome supply chain issues that have rocked other retailers, including auto sales.

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

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

Washer said she also placed her orders early and used multiple dispensers, though this meant some popular products arrived all at once, as opposed to staggered arrivals like in previous years.

The view of Copperfield’s Books, with 10 North Bay stores, can serve as another snapshot of the region’s economy. The Sebastopol store turned 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 capacity during the peak of the last winter, which weighed on holiday sales, co-owner Paul Jaffe mentioned.

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