After brutal year, retailers brace for holiday season that will be anything but regular

Golden store owner: "I'm a little worried to tell you the truth"

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/3/20

In a typical year, the Red Wagon Gift and Garden shop in Golden kicks off the holiday shopping season by putting out hot cider, cookies and other treats to welcome customers for Small Business …

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After brutal year, retailers brace for holiday season that will be anything but regular

Golden store owner: "I'm a little worried to tell you the truth"

Posted

In a typical year, the Red Wagon Gift and Garden shop in Golden kicks off the holiday shopping season by putting out hot cider, cookies and other treats to welcome customers for Small Business Saturday.

But, as everyone knows all too well by now, this year has been anything but typical — and holiday shopping will be no exception.

“Obviously we are not doing any of that this year,” said Red Wagon owner Susan Lusk ahead of the annual local shopping event. “So, I am just hoping people will still want to come down and shop, even though we aren’t doing quite as much festivities as we did before.”

Once unthinkable, such concerns about whether people will be willing to come out and shop not only on Small Business Saturday but in the weeks that follow have become commonplace around Jeffco as local retailers brace for a holiday season where even the basic act of browsing a store carries plenty of risk.

“I’m a little worried to tell you the truth,” said Lusk, who said her store typically does as much in sales during the holiday season as it will in the next four or five months that follow. “December is everything and if we don’t have people in to buy stuff we are going to be in trouble.”

Red Wagon and other stores did get a big boost on Nov. 17 when Gov. Jared Polis announced changes to the COVID-19 dial that would allow retailers to operate at 50% capacity even as counties like Jeffco moved to Level Red and had to put a stop to indoor dining and other commercial activities.

But Lusk said even that move has created a challenge as she worries confusion about what is and isn’t allowed under the everchanging regulations will lead people to conclude that stores like hers have been forced to shutter.

“We’re trying to raise awareness through Facebook and Instagram and everything to get people to know that yes, this is Level Red but it’s not a complete shutdown,” said Lusk. “But I think that people are probably going to stay away because they don’t feel safe.”

Mask up for Santa

Concerns about safety are also leading retailers to take new approaches to the shopping experience. At Colorado Mills, 12 stores are offering curbside pickup and even that timeless mall holiday ritual — a photo with Santa — will look different.

“For everyone’s safety, this will be a socially distanced experience for our guests,” reads a description of this year’s Lights. Camera. Santa! experience on the Colorado Mills website, which also notes that both Santa and all guests will be required to wear masks. Reservations are also encouraged, though not required, this year.

Kim Spence, the owner of My Favorite Things in Belmar, is also expecting a slow holiday season at that store. However, Spence said the culprit will be less the reluctance of shoppers to come out then the impact of the recent rash of store closures that have hit the Lakewood shopping center since the start of the pandemic.

That growing list, which is made up mainly of corporately-owned retailers, includes Francesca’s, Victoria’s Secret, Lane Bryant, The Children’s Place and Sur La Table.

“If you go through Belmar it is mostly empty stores,” said Spence. “And it does have an impact on my store there. Sales are down.”

The reason, however, that Spence is attributing that slowdown more to the state of Belmar than the overall COVID environment is that her other All My Favorite Things store, which is located at the Aspen Grove shopping center in Littleton, is on track to double its sales from last year — despite the pandemic.

“I think that people are really making an effort to shop local instead of the big box stores and really support us,” said Spence. “That’s really encouraging.”

Lusk said her store has also experienced plenty of traffic from those going out of their way to support small businesses, which she very much appreciates. However, she worries about the impact that the loss of holiday traffic drawn to events like the annual Candlelight Walk, which has been canceled.

“I don’t know if we are going to get that this year,” she said. “But then again one thing we have had this year is people coming out to shop just because they are bored of sitting at home.”

Also new this year has been a notable increase in the number of people coming out to shop for holiday gifts earlier in November. Such early shopping is something Lusk has encouraged not only because it helps her business but also because of anticipated supply issues resulting from the virus.

“If you see something at my store or any store you should buy it because if it is gone we may not be able to get it back,” she said. “A lot of our vendors either are already out of stuff and can’t get new stuff or can’t get back ramped up again. I don’t know what we are going to look like a couple of weeks before Christmas so we have really been trying to emphasize the shopping early.”

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