Gainesville business owners feeling confident about holiday shopping season

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An after party to Thanksgiving, Black Friday is recognized as a commencement of the holiday shopping season. In years prior, avid shoppers made their way to the closest Target or Best Buy in the early hours of Friday morning for guaranteed discounts.

While factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and online shopping continue to alter these norms, however, small businesses have always struggled with community involvement on this day.

Yet local Gainesville businesses have confidence in shoppers this holiday season, as last year’s limitations from the pandemic are already proving residents’ appreciation for shopping locally.

Duke Pinner, owner of retail landmark Pinner’s Fine Shoes on West University Avenue in Gainesville, just celebrated 54 years of business. After struggling during the pandemic, the store has seen an overwhelming enthusiasm to shop, Pinner said.

“Our business this fall, September and October, were two months that would rival business from a decade ago,” he said. “It was that good, and that’s been a long time coming.”

Because of that enthusiasm, Pinner’s Fine Shoes is committed to participating in holiday shopping, including Black Friday advertising and Shop Small with American Express, but it will not be discounting store items.

According to Pinner, people are looking for what they want, rather than what’s on sale.

“I think the pandemic caused a lot of people in a town like Gainesville to reassess the value of how important small, local business actually is to not only the local economy, but the personality of the city,” he said.

Shop Small with American Express takes place on Small Business Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving. That’s when shoppers are encouraged to shop and support local stores.

With locations in Ocala and downtown Gainesville, the gift store Agapanthus will hold a “12 Days of Christmas” sale. Discounts and rewards will be announced each of those days.

Ashley Wheeler-Gerds, the chief of people at Agapanthus, said business definitely decreased during the pandemic, but she anticipates a busy weekend this year.

“The biggest difference is, I think, people are ready to get out, have a sense of normalcy but still be safe,” she said. “A lot more people are now vaccinated, so that they can shop safely.”

This year, distributors are also able to get more items in stock compared to 2020, and Agapanthus expanded its business to e-commerce, shipping nationwide, Wheeler-Gerds said.

“Those online sales help us to stay open, stay alive and be able to serve those local in the community and those far away that may not be able to shop safely yet,” she said.

On a national scale, small businesses have been turning to technology. According to a Forbes survey of 260 small business owners, 62% feel the pandemic accelerated their online business strategies, and 65% expect their business to be fully recovered in two years.

Tropical Roots, a local plant store located on West Newberry Road, will have online-only sales for the rest of the year. Starting Thursday at midnight through Cyber Monday, the store will hold a site-wide sale for all of its plants. On Tuesday, free deliveries will be made to customers in Gainesville, a regular practice for Tropical Roots online purchases.

Nadia Mourad co-owns the business with her partner Yazmin Almaraz. Mourad said she expected sales to decrease during the pandemic last year as the winter off-season normally causes a dip in sales. However, the two owners recognized an increase last December.

“I think because everybody was still inside wanting to decorate their space and buying more plants than usual,” Mourad said.

This season, Tropical Roots expects the sales to stay the same.

Ethical buying played a large part in Mourad’s decision to shop local this season. At a time where people spend more for their loved ones, buying from someone you know or recognize in the community cancels out larger corporations with unethical manufacturing, she said.

“If your morals don’t align with those kinds of things, then you shouldn’t be supporting that,” Mourad said.

Born and raised in Gainesville, Ilene Silverman has grown up around small businesses. After owning multiple herself, Silverman opened Ilene’s Gator Store four years ago.

Difficulty in supplying products as quickly as possible has caused the store to take precautions, stocking up on the most popular Gators items ahead of Black Friday, she said.

“We are urging people who are coming to Gainesville to think about their Christmas gifts,” Silverman said. “There is definitely not the ability to back up certain things.”

About Olivia deMontmorency

Olivia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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