Businesses report smaller-than-usual weekend crowds, but strong sales

ASHER SCHOFIELD, co-owner of Frog & Toad LCC, said that the Providence gift shop saw a significant increase in sales on Small Business Saturday and Black Friday this year compared to 2020 and 2019. PBN PHOTO/PAMELA BHATIA

PROVIDENCE – After a difficult holiday season in 2020, small businesses are hoping to see sales begin to bounce back or exceed pre-pandemic norms this year. 

Some downtown businesses reported that while Small Business Saturday and Black Friday didn’t draw their usual crowds, holiday shopping seems to have started earlier and stronger this year. 

At Modern Love gift shop, Small Business Saturday sales increased by 24% compared to 2020, while Black Friday sales — which are usually smaller than Small Business Saturday — saw a 180% increase. But the shop still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels for the kick-off to holiday shopping, said owner Karen Beebe. 

“Those two days didn’t feel as overwhelming as they sometimes do,” Beebe said. 

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Nationally, for the Nov. 26 through Sunday period, store sales rose 14.1% compared with the same period in 2020 and were up 5.8% compared to 2019, Mastercard SpendingPulse reported.

But Adobe Digital Economy Index said this year was the first time online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday hadn’t grown, and Cyber Monday could likewise see a decline compared with a year ago. Adobe, which tracks more than one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, had previously recorded healthy online sales gains since it first began reporting on e-commerce in 2012.

Both Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day online shopping came in below Adobe’s prediction. On Black Friday, online sales reached $8.9 billion, down from the $9 billion in 2020, the second largest day of the year. On Thanksgiving Day, online sales reached $5.1 billion, even from the year-ago period, The Associated Press reported.

While sales figures were smaller than in typical, pre-COVID-19 years, Beebe said that business overall has picked up. With the pandemic ongoing, Beebe speculated that some customers may also try to plan their shopping to avoid anticipated crowds. 

Sales also increased year-over-year for Frog and Toad gift shop, with sales even surpassing pre-pandemic figures: Revenue for Small Business Saturday and Black Friday increased by 37% from 2020 to 2021, and by 168% for 2021 over 2019, said owner Asher Schofield. 

Schofield attributed this increase partially to a holiday season that he expects will see frontloaded sales for many businesses, with consumers fearing possible pandemic-related closures and anticipating shipping delays due to widespread supply chain shortages. 

“People have been aware of the supply chain issues and have been wanting to get their shopping lists done early as a consequence,” Schofield said. “My indication is that it will be a booming holiday season, but that it will be a more balanced one than in the past.” 

This year, Schofield added, the store saw “holiday shoppers really at the beginning of October,” which he noted was unusually early. 

The Malted Barley Brewing Co. also had a slower-than-usual Small Business Saturday, said owner and President Ron Koller, though revenue has overall been booming: The Malted Barley had its strongest month in its six years of business in October 2021, and is on track to repeat this trend in November. 

Compared to last November, when the business still had capacity limits and intensified COVID-19 challenges, the difference this past weekend has been “night and day,” Koller said. 

“It’s hard to even look at those numbers from last year,” he said. “That was a fraction of what we’re doing.” 

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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