Philadelphia retailers have a couple of messages for people planning to buy last-minute Christmas gifts.
Chiefly, they’re grateful. 2020 has been a terrible year for most of the city’s small businesses: They’ve been hit by government-mandated shut downs, theft and vandalism, and a sharp decline in foot traffic. The fate of a second stimulus bill passed by Congress this week that would give these businesses a financial cushion to help them through the slow winter months is now uncertain after criticism Tuesday from President Donald Trump.
All of this makes the holiday shopping season — even the tail end of it — more important than ever for the city’s retailers to survive. Nationwide, nearly half of all small business owners say they have been counting on above average holiday sales this year to stay in business, according to an American Express study.
That’s been complicated by the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. In Pennsylvania, case numbers have plateaued after a post-Thanksgiving spike but daily counts remain higher than all the months of the pandemic preceding. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has urged people to shop online in the days leading up to holidays,
Philadelphia retail store owners say they are following city guidelines and ready and able to safely accommodate shoppers, but they and their staff are hoping last minute customers do their part to make the process smooth and stress-free.
Waiting in line? Be patient
Last month, Philadelphia officials put tight new restrictions in place on city businesses to try to slow the surge in coronavirus cases. Retailers are limited to five people per 1,000 square feet. In some shops in dense parts of the city, that means one or two customers allowed in at a time.
The result? Lines to enter can stretch down the block at peak shopping times.
“I’m sure we’ve missed out on a lot of sales because people couldn’t get in the door,” said Ashley Peel, co-owner of the Old City boutique Philadelphia Independent, which has a two person customer limit.
Peel added that most of her customers have been “super patient.” Other retailers echoed that sentiment, but said customers hoping to pick up some last-minute gifts should plan on the possibility of spending some time outside first.
Some business owners have come up with creative ways to quell line anxiety. Elissa Kara has taken to pouring shots of whiskey for the customers who queue up outside of her Passyunk Avenue boutique, Nice Things Handmade.
“[It’s for] the lovely people standing in line in the cold,” Kara said while pouring shots over the weekend.
Kara says every customer counts right now. The business does not do online sales, and Kara says the fact that she is in default on her college loans has made it difficult for her to obtain coronavirus grants or loans.
Lexi Sharp was fifth in line to get into the boutique. Waiting was “not too bad,” she said, but she added the drink will make the time pass “a lot quicker.”