CHESTERTOWN — With the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping season upon us, small businesses throughout Kent County are stocking great gifts for everyone.
Stores are getting decorated inside and out for the holidays as Black Friday and Small Business Saturday approach later this week.
Shop owners also have taken public health precautions as the coronavirus pandemic continues. They also spoke about how just being small provides safer shopping opportunities than megastores and malls.
Take Sam Arrow, owner of Walnut and Wool on High Street in Chestertown. She said she arranged the flow of her store to make it easier for customers to social distance.
Tom Martin, owner of the Bookplate around the corner on South Cross Street, has installed air purifiers in every room and placed hand sanitizer stations throughout his store.
“We’re at an advantage in a small town because it is quieter than going to the mall and going to these places where there are mass amounts of people,” Arrow said, noting that in her store, “everyone’s wearing masks, everyone’s spacing.”
Arrow said at Walnut and Wool, she tries to sell goods from local artisans in addition to unique and handmade items that shoppers cannot find at the mall. She also offers wrapping services, so that once gifts are bought and paid for, they are ready to be given, or as she said, “you’re ready to go.”
Arrow spoke about how the Lodestone Candles she carries are made in Kent County and feature labels printed by a local press.
While Kent County does not have any of the megastores with long lines of customers waiting to get inside for Black Friday deals, Molly’s Place near Kennedyville is known for its annual event.
This week, with a tent set up outside to assist with customer volume, Molly’s Place also is boosting its online presence virtual with the launch of a new website — mymollys.com — offering delivery and curbside pickup.
“As a small business, you have to adapt with the nature of things are right now,” said Molly’s Place owner Prakash “Chikki” Shajwani. “At the core of it, we will always be a small business that started with four people.”
“So when you buy one of these you support three local businesses, which is pretty cool,” Arrow said.
For Shajwani, it has been 10 years of building Molly’s Place into not just an outdoor outfitter carrying top-of-the-line clothing and sporting goods, but an attraction, a premier tourism destination. With their website launch, he is continuing to look ahead.
“We specialize in taking care of our customers. To be able to carry that online is going to be our next challenge,” he said. “There is a personalized service aspect to this, that’s what we do.”
Local restaurants also benefit from holiday sales.
Neyah White, owner of the Retriever Bar and the Decoy Bottle Shop on High Street, said gift cards play a role in supporting restaurants by expanding the customer base. He spoke about how a gift certificate for a restaurant is a show of support and a recommendation for a potential customer.
“I think restaurants need to think about being something more than just a restaurant,” White said.
In his case, White paired the Retriever restaurant operation with the Decoy Bottle Shop selling a carefully curated roster of beer, wine and spirits.
“Chestertown has embraced our other ways of doing business,” White said.
That other way of doing business also includes creating a carryout menu with dishes like coq au vin, providing a quality takeaway culinary experience.
“We’re very much designing food that travels well and is something that is really fun to open up. It’s changed the way we do things in the kitchen,” White said.
Sandy Scott is the owner of the Hickory Stick boutique on East Sharp Street in Rock Hall. She also is the treasurer of the Rock Hall Main Street organization.
For her and other business owners in Rock Hall, November is not usually one of their busiest months. She said they rely on the tourism traffic in the warmer months, notably those boaters tying up at local marinas.
Still, she has seen a surge in support for local businesses over the holidays. She also spoke about how some residents of Rock Hall will only shop in Rock Hall.
Scott said Main Street Rock Hall seeks to remind people not to default to shopping online this holiday season.
“The local businesses really need your support as much as possible,” she said, adding that with this year’s surge in online shopping due to the COVID-19 lockdown, she expects there to be a big slowdown in delivery times for holidays.
While holiday celebrations throughout Kent County have been called off, Main Street Rock Hall hit upon one promotion still planned for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28. Those who spend $20 or more on gifts at a participating business will receive a token for a free hot cocoa or mulled beverage.
“We’re still open and we still have products for you,” Scott said, also noting the personalized services offered at small businesses. “Walmart and Amazon are not hurting.”
When the COVID-19 lockdown was in full effect, Main Street Chestertown launched a “Buy Now, Shop Later” campaign to prop up small businesses, which Martin said helped get his bookstore “over the hump.” He also has long maintained an online sales operation.
Martin said as shops were able to start reopening from the COVID-19 lockdown, the Bookplate made a lot of new customers as people escaped cities for day trips to places like Chestertown, with so many of them pledging to come back and tell their friends.
“Every single day, seven days a week, people were just churning through here,” he said.
Holiday shoppers will likely note some changes at the Bookplate, as Martin took the lockdown time to rearrange the store. The children’s section is more open with lower shelves. Lots more shelves have been added to the back room, which was open for public speakers and other events Martin thinks are unlikely to return to his store but he hopes to sponsor at other venues.
Shajwani, like Scott and others, reminds shoppers that small businesses are the backbone of the community. Shajwani said they also support nonprofit organizations, schools, youth sports and so much more.
“Local businesses pay back and reinvest in the community,” he said.
As for the overall shopping experience in local stores, Arrow said people are often more courteous in places like the small stores in downtown communities like Chestertown.
“It’s just much more enjoyable — and safer,” she said.