As a potentially record-setting holiday shopping season begins, Skagit County retailers are finding creative solutions for COVID-19-related supply chain challenges that have resulted in out-of-stock products, shipment delays and higher costs.
“We’re having to find other sources or similar items or just bring in completely new things altogether,” said Ken McLaughlin, owner of In Good Spirit in Mount Vernon.
He said supply chain issues have created ripple-down effects for many businesses like his.
“We had a delay on one of our candles because the woman who makes them couldn’t get glass containers,” he said.
Supply chain problems bring to mind images of cargo ships stacked high with shipping containers waiting to enter ports.
Phoebe Carpenter Eells, owner of ElSage Designs in Mount Vernon, said her clothing and gift shop has felt minimal impacts from the global supply crisis because it buys from local artisans and makes some products in-house.
“Because so much is made locally, not a lot is sitting on cargo ships,” she said.
In the store on Saturday, Lyman resident Allison Abbey and daughter Evelyn, 3, browsed for soaps and artwork for sale. Abbey said she likes to support small merchants and has recently experienced online shipping delays.
“I’ve been trying to avoid shopping online and to shop local,” she said.
In Anacortes, Watermark Book Co. owner Brandy Bowen said some book titles have been slow to arrive and gift items are out of stock. She said she has switched up the merchandise in her store, which she tries to do anyway.
Bowen said she ordered from her suppliers two-and-half months earlier than normal to make sure the products arrived in time for the holidays.
“We ordered very, very early, so it is a bit more of a financial burden this year,” she said.
Bowen said local retailers benefited last holiday season from the extra money — unemployment checks and stimulus payments — circulating in the economy. She hopes customers will continue to spend money at local businesses.
“(Business) has picked up and I’m happy and our shop is full of people,” she said.
The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday retail sales will shatter records, with sales growing between about 9% to 11% compared to 2020, according to a recent news release from the organization.
Some local merchants agreed.
“I’m positive it will be a record holiday season for us, we’re still doing summer numbers. It’s very surprising,” said Robyn Bradley, owner of two La Conner stores.
She said her businesses — Handmade La Conner and Winston’s General — have faced supply issues throughout the pandemic.
While she is able to source what she needs from different suppliers, Bradley said prices have gone up. For example, she is paying twice as much for the lotion pumps she uses for the personal care products she makes at Handmade La Conner.
So far, she hasn’t passed the higher costs onto customers.
“I have my fingers crossed it will go back to the way it was sooner rather than later, and the costs will go down,” Bradley said.
On Saturday, Skagit County chambers of commerce and organizations encouraged customers to shop locally on the annual Small Business Saturday.
Ellen Gamson, executive director of the Mount Vernon Downtown Association, said many small businesses are still struggling amid the pandemic. She said it’s important to continue to shop local.
“What I’m hearing from businesses downtown is that November sales have not reflected last year’s local support yet,” she said. “The hope is to remember that it’s still very, very important to support independent businesses.”