It’s an election year. Have you voted?
For your favorite small business, we mean. With your dollars.
“We’re seeing a lot of our loyal customers coming out as a show of support,” said Carla Irvin, co-owner of Plum Bottom, the Susquehanna Township shoe boutique. “It’s almost like that vote of confidence.”
Don’t sound taps for small businesses yet. Yes, COVID-19 forced them to shut their doors last spring, but many have bounced back and now anticipate healthy holiday seasons. The secret weapon, all agree, is loyal customers anxious for the uplift that new clothes or a comfy sofa can deliver.
“In the self-care category, you’re just going to feel better when you’re thinking, ‘If I just get a new sweater, if I just get a new pair of jeans and they fit nicely and they feel comfortable,’” said Lisa DeCavalcante, owner of Little Black Dress. “If I feel like I look good in them, I feel like I can conquer the world.”
When Little Black Dress reopened, DeCavalcante stocked her Camp Hill boutique with “the things people needed—sweatshirts, pajamas, lounge pants.” The global supply chain “was and is a hot mess,” but with a new children’s boutique poised to open, the store took “huge deliveries” of spring and summer children’s clothes around March 15.
“You know, all the Easter dresses that nobody needed,” DeCavalcante said.
Thinking fast, she bought Facebook and Google ads that found Sunbelt customers who needed children’s bathing suits and shorts.
When the pandemic hit, Plum Bottom deployed its recently revamped online presence—complete with fashion tips and appealing videos—to keep the store’s brand and family atmosphere top of mind.
“It didn’t nearly make up for being closed, but at least it didn’t feel like being dead in the water,” said Irvin. “We had a goal, and we had a message for our customers.”
Plum Bottom even delivered directly to local customers, with contactless drop-offs.
“People appreciated that personal touch,” Irvin said.
In Harrisburg’s SoMa district, the twin vintage shops Stash and The Midtown Dandy reopened cautiously and now divide the week between appointment shopping and walk-in hours—all with the standard precautions, including strict face mask rules. The two stores have seen upticks through online presentations across multiple platforms.
“Luckily, Instagram and Etsy filled in for me when the shop closed,” said Stash owner Anela Bence-Selkowitz.
Added The Midtown Dandy owner Andy Kintzi, “I’ve had great support from customers internationally.”
In the silver-linings category, Red Door Consignment Gallery experienced “three record-breaking months” after their doors reopened in June.
“People have been living in their homes a lot more, so they’re making more out of it,” said owner Sam Levine. “They’re saying, ‘This sofa no longer does it for me.’” And as for outdoor furniture, “It was flying out the door.”
Businesses forced to shut down got help with initial losses from the Paycheck Protection Program, but the bills keep coming, while PPP money does not. Customers, too, have been eyeing their bank accounts but are also rethinking how they spend the savings accumulating from all those nights at home.
“People are choosing to spend their dollars more wisely,” said Irvin. “They’re choosing quality over quantity.”
DeCavalcante’s longtime business philosophy of selling unique but useful items, suitable and comfortable for office and home, has provided an anchor for rough economic seas.
“We always try to fill that niche of ‘don’t buy it to wear it once,’” she said. “Buy it to wear multiple times.”
Homeowners gasping in horror at their shabby, no-longer chic décor still had a tanking economy to consider. Quality consignments fit nicely for “the individual who says, ‘This sofa no longer does it, but I don’t want to spend or don’t have the ability to spend $2,000 for a new sectional sofa,’” said Levine.
The pandemic presented minor but manageable speed bumps for businesses that had new plans on the drawing board. Little Black Dress changed its new children’s boutique from a planned bump-out into a space carved from the store’s existing footprint.
“Everything shifted to ‘let’s just keep it simple, to what we can manage,’” said DeCavalcante. “It has survived and thrived. Kids still want to dress up, girls especially.”
Plum Bottom is going full-steam ahead with a second location at Neighbors & Smith in Camp Hill, next door to Little Black Dress, for a swoon-worthy, head-to-toe shopping experience. The Plum Bottom owners felt so bullish about Camp Hill that, when additional space became available in the midst of the pandemic, they paused construction and “kicked it back to the architectural drawing stage.”
The second Plum Bottom store should open by the new year, while the website elevates Plum Bottom toward its goal of creating a national brand.
“Any smart business owner is looking for the opportunities in this,” said Irvin.
Little Black Dress is stocking up on giftables for the holiday season, anticipating some demand for nice tops for small gatherings but few calls for that knock-‘em-dead party outfit. DeCavalcante anticipates that local shoppers will forego destination-style Christmas shopping in favor of neighborhood explorations.
“Hopefully, it will translate to a long-term thing,” she said.
At Red Door Consignment Gallery, demand usually surges in the pre-Thanksgiving weeks for dining room tables—the bigger, the better—but are family gatherings still on the menu?
“That’s a good question,” said Levine. “We don’t know what to expect this year.”
Bence-Selkowitz and Kintzi remain confident about the holiday shopping season.
“Our people, our regulars come back around,” Bence-Selkowitz said. “They’re always really excited around the holidays to see what new stuff we have and gifts.”
Even with nowhere to go for showing off new outfits, Little Black Dress regular Dorothy Ward recently bought two “long, black, kind-of sweater jackets.”
“I love to support local,” said the Lower Paxton Township resident.
Most of her favorite shops, also including Plum Bottom and Maggie Adams, are owned and run by women.
“They’ve done a magnificent job with social media,” she said. “They’ve made it easy for us—those of us who do like to shop. These women were doing it before COVID, but it became even more important during COVID.”
DeCavalcante’s regular customers have “for sure” been a bulwark through lean times, she said.
“But even people that were not typically customers recognized that if they don’t support these small stores and local restaurants, they’re not going to be here,” she added.
Levine’s customers bought gift certificates and called to check on his store during the shutdown.
“People want local vendors to survive,” he said.
As winter approaches, some small business owners fear a return to pandemic shutdowns and slowdowns.
“Hopefully, that doesn’t happen,” Levine said. “You know, you just don’t know.”
The customer base at Stash and The Midtown Dandy “has been extremely supportive,” said Kintzi.
“People just want to get out and about and be around other people and see the world again,” he said.
DeCavalcante firmly believes in the small business-sustaining power of shoppers craving “little luxuries.”
“Of course, whether or not you have an exciting place to wear them to, I don’t know,” she said with a laugh. “Sometimes, picking up pizza is an exciting thing.”
For more information, visit these retailers’ websites, Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. Most importantly, please support your favorite Harrisburg-area shops this season.
So, what’s hot this holiday season? Ask your local small-business owner.
Plum Bottom: The homebound worker will appreciate elegant slippers to replace those scruffy moccasins. Or gift yourself with that leather jacket you’ve always wanted.
Little Black Dress: A nicely priced scarf or piece of jewelry always perks up an old outfit.
Red Door Consignment Gallery: Home fashionistas love gift certificates. Work-from-homers’ aching backs are crying out for quality office chairs.
The Midtown Dandy and Stash: Digital gift cards allow for safe online shopping. Black sweaters are always in vogue. Vintage sew-on patches add panache to your guy’s outfit.
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