“This has been a most unusual holiday season, due to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on people’s shopping patterns,” Warren Wohlgemuth, manager at the Jesup Walmart, said.
But Wohlgemuth and the other Jesup retailers surveyed by The Press-Sentinel recently all agree that holiday sales are going well.
Local merchants are adapting to the changes with new approaches and positive attitudes, and most say that sales so far are better than expected—even better than ever, in some cases.
And, perhaps most importantly, all are reporting that the Christmas spirit is surviving, even under the stresses of the pandemic.
“We’re seeing new faces and cheerful shoppers despite the pandemic and all we’ve been going through!” said Deann Anderson, manager at the Prissy Hen Boutique. “Everybody seems to have a little bit more joy!”
Anderson said sales are going great and that the store’s “Black Friday” sale event was their best ever.
“It seems like more people are shopping locally, and we’re also seeing some people from out of town shopping here because they like the small town, downtown atmosphere with no crowds,” Anderson commented. “Some customers say they’ve gone to the big department stores and can’t find what they’re looking for.”
The Prissy Hen is owned by Deidre Odum.
Larod Bowen, co-owner at the ever-popular David’s Clothing in downtown Jesup, agrees.
“It’s going well! We’re having a good year,” Bowen said. “Since reopening full time in May, we’ve been doing a good business, and we’re having a very good holiday season! People are buying lots of clothes, and we’re gift-wrapping like crazy! Customers seem happy. And the Christmas spirit does not seem diminished at all!”
He also noted that, as usual, his store is doing a great out-of-town business.
“I think the pandemic is causing people to shop locally more,” Molly Hall, Jesup Downtown Development Authority executive director said Tuesday. “People want to avoid the big-box retailers, and we hope people will continue to support our downtown merchants.”
She reported that the Elf on the Shelf downtown promotion was well received, with 20 downtown shoppers—the first to find the hidden elf in each of 20 stores—receiving $25 gift certificates.
Big changes at
Wohlgemuth said that Walmart has seen big changes, but things are going well.
“We’ve seen a tremendous up tick in our e-commerce, our online business,” he noted. “Our online grocery business has been a huge success. In general, our basket size has been very good this season.
“It has been a stressful, difficult season at times. It’s been a challenge sometimes to get products, but we’re continuing to strive to excel at that.”
He said the store’s ‘Black Friday’ event was very different this year. Instead of one big day, the store had six separate events—three in-store events and three online events, which reduced the crowds but kept sales up.
“I think this [pandemic] situation is changing how we will do business in the future. Retail is evolving. Everyone is struggling with the COVID, so more and more business is going online. Walmart has been developing the e-commerce side for some time, but the COVID sped up the process.”
Geoffrey Crawford of Crawford’s Jewelry said their sales are above normal for Christmas so far.
“And everybody is in good spirits!” he said. “I think people were really looking forward to this time of year and getting a little bit of normalcy.”
He noted that people seem to be shopping locally more because they’re more comfortable with the less congested atmosphere of small town shopping.
He said bridal sales are doing very well this season.
Melissa Blanton, owner of Mine & Yours Boutique, said things were going well for her shop.
“Everything is going great!” she said. “We’re doing as well or better than usual on our Christmas sales. I feel very blessed! The good Lord has been good to me.”
She also agreed that things are different.
“I think COVID has made people stay local. It’s been really good for us,” Blanton said. “A lot of people are telling us they’re shopping local because they feel safer, more comfortable with small town shopping. We’re doing all we can to make people feel safe. I think people are just realizing they can put on their mask and be as safe as they can and get what they need.”
She also said she’s seeing many shoppers from surrounding towns, which she said is normal for the Christmas season, but added that there may be even more out-of-town shoppers than in previous years.
She also noted that many shoppers locate items on the store’s website and then come in to buy them.
Tracy Murphy, owner of the Berry Patch, said that her business is also very good this season.
“I think it’s because people are staying local and not wanting to wait on shopping because of the uncertainty of things,” she said. “We thank all our customers for being so loyal, shopping locally and supporting downtown businesses.”
Murphy said that in general, she is seeing more traffic downtown and noted that other shop owners she has spoken with agree.
She and most of the other shop owners also agreed there seem to be no major trends in hot items this year.
“People are doing more with their homes,” she noted. “They’re decorating more, probably because they’re home more. And we’re doing great with lounge-wear.”
Blanton said she’s seeing a similar trend.
“A lot of Stanx leggings and lounge-wear–quarantine wear! And lots of tennis shoes,” she said.
Wohlgemuth said that Walmart’s big sellers are the usual Christmas items, including toys and electronics. He also noted that the week before Christmas is the biggest food week of the year for the store.
Participating businesses in the Elf on a Shelf promotion in downtown Jesup included Bennett’s Jewelry, Berry Patch, Britches & Bows, Café Euro, Crawford’s Jewelers, David’s Clothing, Fabulous Finds, Garden of Eat’n, Merle Norman, Mine & Yours, Misty’s Pharmacy, Murphy Builders Supply, One Love Island & Soul Food, Prissy Hen, Salad Spot, Southern Charm & Elegance, Southern Shabby & Chic, Strand Bistro, Vintage Soul and WC Outfitters.