When businesses had to close their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic and owners wondered how they would pay the bills, Frederick residents opened their wallets and wrapped their arms around the small business community.
Bundled up against the cold, shoppers milled about downtown Frederick the day after Christmas. Shop windows were full of gifts waiting to be bought, but also signs reminding shoppers to wear masks and distance from others. A few local businesses found customers were drawn to comfort and home decor items more than anything this holiday season. To meet demand and stay in business, some shops offered online sales for the first time.
Inside Crème de la Crème on N. Market Street, customers perused pottery, blankets, candles, jewelry and more. Staff said they’ve noticed customers gravitating toward items used to spruce up homes — where people are spending more time than ever. Manager Julie Kennedy said sales are up between 35 and 60 percent year over year.
“The downtown Frederick people are amazing,” she said. “We have just been really, really lucky.”
The store closed from March to May due to the pandemic, Kennedy said, which led them to build a website — something they didn’t use before.
She’s found the average amount a customer spends has gone up since COVID-19 touched down. In the past, one person would spent about $40 to $50 per visit. Now, they’re spending approximately $90. Kennedy’s theory is customers are trying to buy everything they need in one trip rather than make multiple stops to different stores. She’s been impressed by the community’s desire to spend to support local businesses.
“We have such a vibrant city and we want it to stay that way,” Kennedy said.
Ec’clectibles on E. Patrick Street also started selling products online for the first time, owner Paul Thompson said.
“It’s rather exciting, it worked well,” he said. “I think, all things considered, it was a successful year for us.”
Thompson said holiday sales weren’t as high as in the past, but the bills got paid. Tourists and locals alike were drawn to specialty glasses and tumblers depicting a map of Frederick. Also popular was a wooden decoration with four layers that depict Frederick landmarks, like the stone arch bridge over Carroll Creek and the church spires. Christmas ornaments shaped like hand sanitizer and toilet paper were bought often.
What flew off the shelves, though, were comfort items. The shop offered shawls, blankets and weighted heart-shaped pillows from the Giving Collection. Thompson said they sold out twice. On Saturday, all that remained from the collection was a fluffy blanket.
Thompson likened the items to a hug. If you can’t hug your loved one in person, then maybe you could give them something soft and cozy to hold.
Around the corner from Ec’clectibles, Curious Iguana offers the natural pairing to a warm blanket.
Fantasy books, sci-fi novels and “happy” tales have been most popular since the pandemic began, according to lead bookseller Em Perper. In terms of sales, the bookstore is doing well.
“This year is our best year we’ve ever had,” Perper said. They said many people shopping Saturday were coming to redeem gift cards.
One of the challenging parts of the pandemic, Perper said, has been managing the number of people in the store. They allowed eight people at a time and had a short line outside Saturday afternoon. Eager shoppers gazed through the glass windows at books on display.
At Retro-Metro on N. Market Street, owner Sherri Johnson praised the community for its support. She’s met shoppers who said they set out to buy local this year in particular because they don’t want to see small businesses go under.
“They really cared,” Johnson said.
Popular in her store this year were puzzles, socks with funny sayings and patterns, and anything having to do with “baby Yoda,” a character on Disney’s “The Mandalorian.”
Johnson said holiday sales were about 10 percent less than usual, but she feared it could have been worse. She felt the community really came through for local businesses — but the pandemic isn’t over yet.