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With pandemic, holiday shopping season more urgent for local retailers

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This year’s holiday shopping season is more vital than usual for local retailers thanks to the continued impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, government restrictions and high unemployment, said local business leaders.

“It’s never been more critical that people shop local for Christmas,” said Rebecca Grizzle, executive director of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce.

“Retail businesses do 20 to 30% of their annual sales during this time of the year, and that, at this point, is make-or-break for a lot of our small retail shops in town,” she added.

Jennifer Moreland, executive director of the Downtown Corvallis Association, said that residents' support of businesses this November and December could ensure that shops, stores and restaurants remain open in 2021 and beyond.

Moreland’s voice began to quake as she discussed the dire situation. “I’m not going to cry,” she said.

The Downtown Corvallis Association, the Albany Downtown Association and the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce’s partners will be doing special promotions to try and draw customers to local businesses.

In years past, both downtown Albany and downtown Corvallis have participated in Shop Small Saturday — a response to sales at big box stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

“It’s always a big day, probably one of our biggest days of the year,” said Teresa Hutchinson, owner of Burlap & Lace, 221 N.W. Second St. in Corvallis.

But this year, Albany and Corvallis businesses are having a lengthier sales promotion in an attempt to spread out customers.

Operating during the age of COVID-19, with social distancing and other safety measures, hasn’t changed the big advantage of small local shops, said Lise Grato, executive director of the Albany Downtown Association.

“They provide that special customer interaction and personal service, and we’re doing everything we can to continue that,” Grato added.

Larry Bumpus of Oak Creek Collection, 301 First Ave. W. in downtown Albany, said that every shopper matters for small businesses, and that makes all the difference.

“It’s harder, but we still can provide that personal touch for our customers,” added Bumpus, who owns the store with his wife Summer Bumpus.

Customer service still will be accomplished for those shy of heading out in public with online and telephone orders, curbside pickup, private shopping hours at certain stores and more, Grato and Moreland said.

“You can still shop small and do it safely,” Moreland said.

Here’s a closer look at some of the promotions for the holidays in Corvallis and Albany.

Corvallis

The Downtown Corvallis Association launched Shop Small November this year with sales and special offers throughout the month.

With the DCA’s passport program, customers can get stamps from seven participating shops and enter to win a gift basket valued at $500, as well as other prizes.

Participating businesses are: Burlap & Lace, Corvallis Brewing Supply, Footwise, Grass Roots Books & Music, Miss Meers, Mod Pod, Northern Star, Peak Sports, Restyle Home & Garden, Running Princess, Second Glance, Seoul Sisters, Sibling Revelry, the Book Bin, the Clothes Tree, the Golden Crane, the Inkwell Home Store, the Toy Factor and Valcan Cellars.

Last year, the DCA received 1,800 passports that were filled out in a two-day span.

Moreland said that the passport program is building steam this year. “People are doing it. They are filling out their passports and taking pictures and posting them on Instagram,” she added.

Some shop owners are teaming up with other businesses to try to spur sales, Hutchinson said. Her shop, Burlap & Lace, has partnered with Seoul Sisters, Mod Pod and the Clothes Tree to offer a holiday bag with items from all four stores for $97.

And Burlap & Lace also is offering 10% off for those with a receipt from downtown Corvallis restaurants.

“You have to get extremely creative right now,” Hutchinson said.

Albany

For downtown Albany, there will be a variety of shopping and dining opportunities through December, Grato said. “We’re looking at it more like shop small all season long,” Grato said.

Many businesses are sharing special promotions via Facebook, and the Albany Downtown Association also is doing a downtown shopping guide on its Facebook page, featuring different gift ideas for each person on your shopping list.

The guide will include gift ideas for grandparents, teens, kids, outdoorsy types, your foodie friend, pets and more.

The ADA also will have a Holiday Movie Character Hunt, where residents can stroll the streets and look for movie posters throughout town, fill out a print-at-home passport and return that for “Downtown Dollars” good at dozens of retailers. The hunt starts on Dec. 1.

Bumpus’ store, Oak Creek Collection, sells goods from a variety of local artists and craftspeople. He said that downtown Albany has a great mix of stores and shops, and that’s helped during the pandemic. “We have other businesses to help with the traffic,” he said.

And retailers often try to help each other out. If he doesn’t have a specific product, he’ll direct shoppers to another store that does, Bumpus said.

So far, the community has come out and supported local businesses during the pandemic Bumpus said, and he hopes that continues for the holidays.

“It’s the biggest shopping season we have,” said Bumpus, who played football at Oregon State. “It’s our Super Bowl.”

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.

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