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Despite Pandemic, N.H. Small Retailers Report Stronger Than Expected Holiday Shopping Season


Geoff Pendexter took a risk this holiday shopping season, ordering a normal amount of inventory for Whirlygigs, his toy shop in Exeter. With Christmas fast approaching, that gamble appears to have paid off.

“It’s kind of surprising to me because we are doing better than last year, which I wasn’t expecting,” says Pendexter.

Whirlygigs focuses on non-electronic toys and games, including Legos, which Pendexter says he can barely keep on the shelves. Despite the global pandemic and a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths in the state, he’s still seeing a steady stream of foot traffic.

“I think people are trying to do their best to shop local,” he says. 

There’s no statewide data out on the holiday shopping season--and it’s hard to imagine COVID-19 not biting into some profits--but small businesses across the state appear to be seeing a bit of a bounce right now.

“Business has been great,” says Jeni Archer, who this summer purchased Gaia’s Blessing in Peterborough, a small shop that sells spiritual and metaphysical goods including Tarot cards. “My bills are paid and I have a little leftover. I mean that’s really all you want in a small business.”

Many local shops are still trying to dig out from this spring, when they were closed for in-person shopping for two months, due to the emergence of the coronavirus.

In Newport, Dave Lantz, the owner of MJ Harrington Jewelers, a 72-year-old family-run shop, says business remained slow even after reopening.

“We tried to get the engine running again and we did very little business through the end of June,” he says.

Since then, though, jewelry sales have rebounded, and so far in December, when he traditionally does 20 percent of his entire business for the year, sales are on target.

“We’ve just been incredibly grateful that the support has been there to keep us a very viable business when we weren’t so sure that was going to be the case eight or nine months ago,” says Lantz. 

In the days leading up to Christmas, some shops are reporting an unexpected source of foot traffic: a record number of online purchases are overwhelming delivery companies and the postal service, leaving some people scrambling for last-minute gifts for under the tree.

“Today, we’ve had several people in saying they were having to buy back-up gifts because everything they purchased was stuck in the mail,” says Gregg Pruitt, who along with his husband Lionel Loveless own the Collector's Eye and Route 1 Antique Shop, both on the Seacoast. 

Along with selling those back-up gifts, Loveless says they’re doing all they can to make customers who may be leery of browsing in a shop right now comfortable. That includes bringing items outside, when asked. 

“So ultimately it’s just about making people feel safe, and I think we’ve done a good job so far, knock on wood,” he says.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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