By early November, Gloria Herriott had decorated 20 Christmas trees in her store. Wreaths hang from the archway and the blue walls inside Hollyhocks Gift Shop, a brick-and-mortar store in downtown Columbus that Herriott has owned for 23 years. Santa Claus dolls sit atop a shelf next to the window. A Christmas tree in the front is wrapped in so many ornaments that one can hardly tell its color.
Herriott was preparing her store for the Christmas open house, an annual event at the shop that ran from Nov. 6-8 this year. Spice cider and gourmet cheese plate, as well as other southern delicacies, would be available for customers, she said, and decorations would be on sale.
Like Herriott, store owners across the four-county area are decorating their shops to prepare for the holiday shopping season. Beverly Phillips, owner of Annabelle’s Antique Mall in West Point, put up light displays and decorated the furniture at the store. Alan Senter, owner of Senter’s Hardware & Gifts in Macon — a family business of 107 years — said he began preparing for the season in July.
This year, however, many are decorating their businesses with a deadly pandemic in mind.
At Hollyhocks, no customers would be helping themselves like they used to, a measure to reduce human contact, Herriott said. Instead, a designated server would be handling the refreshments, she said. Masks are required for customers to enter the store, she said, and social distancing will be enforced.
“We are trying very hard to make it safe, but really fun, too,” she said.
Senter said masks will be required, and he has put up plexiglass barriers at the checkout counters. Patience McRee, owner of the Starkville branch of Magnolia Soap and Bath Company, said her staff will also require mask wearing and sanitize the counter and high-touch areas between customers. As a nurse, she said, she understands the risk.
“We try to make sure everybody has an enjoyable shopping experience, and we are more willing to do whatever we need to do to make our customers more comfortable,” McRee said.
Despite the stress induced by the pandemic, store owners say they have seen and anticipate a spike in holiday shopping traffic. In response, McRee said, her staff is making batches of products in case they run out.
“We’ve already started making in bulk, not just for our floor, but for back stock,” she said. “That way, whenever we do have an outpour of customers, we’d be prepared to restock our floor.”
Asked if they are worried about high customer traffic on Black Friday this year, most of the shop owners The Dispatch talked to said they do not usually have a flood of customers during the season like big retail stores do. Senter and Herriott both said their shops have seen more early holiday shoppers than usual, and that may help ease the traffic on Black Friday.
“Overall, our traffic has been better this year, so I’m expecting at least as good of a season,” Senter said. “(People) have been working on home projects, and then you have the government stimulus (checks), which a lot of people spent.”
“People are home more than they have been in years past. They have more desire to create a family Christmas … because they have the time,” she said. “People kind of hunker down. They want to go back to the old-fashioned, happy Christmas they remember as kids. So this year, they are buying very traditional, very heart-rendering ornaments and decorations. I think that’s really nice.”
Yue Stella Yu was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.