Alabama retailers hoping for busy holiday shopping season after challenging year

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — Central Alabama retailers are hoping for a busy holiday shopping season after some business owners reported revenue drops due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to new data by commerce group, Womply, the average weekly revenue at Birmingham retailers is down 33% from last year.

The virus continues to impact every type of business. Smaller shops are continually adapting to new customer trends.

“Covid hit and we paused. We are not stopping but we have paused everything,” Duquette and Morgan Johnston said.

The couple owns and operates Club Duquette, a boutique in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Birmingham. The company opened in 2016.

“I am an artist. He is a musician. We decided to open up a shop as this community hub where we can connect people with really great things made by other small businesses,” Morgan Johnston said.

Club Duquette remains closed because of COVID-19. The couple made the decision in March, just before other businesses were forced to close under health orders.

“We are a mom and pop. If one of us were to get sick, it could be devastating to our whole business. Yeah it would be worse than closing,” the Johnstons said.

The couple’s business has been featured in several national publications, including Southern Living.

While the Johnston’s say revenue is down a bit this year, online sales from devoted customers have helped keep the retailer afloat.

Other small shops are also adapting to changes in customer spending habits.

“Instead of buying the going out stuff, the really cute jewelry, we are doing huge business in sweatshirts, and jogging sets, and t-shirts because we are all hanging around the house,” Nicole Conte with Frou Frou Boutique in Alabaster said

Frou Frou Boutique recently moved to a new location during the pandemic, now open in the old Mill House in Alabaster.

Conte said that she and owner Brigelle Oden have already had discussions about having multiple sales leading up to the holidays, rather than just one event that would draw in several shoppers all at once.

“We are thinking of possibly doing something in those days leading up to Thanksgiving,” Conte said. “Doing some different sales every day and giving people a chance to spread it out more. I have noticed personally that some of the big box stores like Target and Wal Mart are doing that.”

The Alabama Retail Association said sales in the holiday period of November and December can account for up to 25% of some business’s yearly revenue.

Retailers are hopeful for a busy season.

“81% of shoppers have said they want to shop in a physical store this year. 54 percent of them say they want to shop in a small business,” Nancy Dennis with the Alabama Retail Association said.

Dennis reports that across the state, retailers are up close to 8% this year. She acknowledges that some businesses were hit harder than others.

“We had declines, but we have recovered from that and we are in a good position heading into the holiday season,” Dennis said.

Small business owners told CBS 42 that they continue to order from other local suppliers. They know it will take a concerted effort to make up for a difficult year that has impacted so many.

“We need to go low and slow to get through whatever this blip is,” the Johnstons continued. “I wanted to make sure that we were taking care of the small businesses that we work with because we are a small community.”

Despite the ongoing challenges, retailers remain optimistic about the future.

“Did we miss a beat here and there? Probably, but overall we have been super blessed in that aspect, but man it has definitely been a different year,” said Conte.

Frou Frou Boutique continues to work on plans for upcoming holiday sales.

Club Duquette hopes to open for appointments soon.

“Making money doesn’t matter if your community is sick and hurting and not there to take care of you in the first place. We run a business differently. Business advisors think we are crazy sometimes but we think it can be done a different way,” said Duquette Johnston.

Despite the dip in some business, the Johnstons report sales of local artwork have increased during the pandemic.


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