WKYT Investigates | 2020 holiday shopping outlook

Will the busy shopping season be enough for businesses to keep their doors open?
Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 4:00 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - The bookshelves stretch from floor to ceiling, full of reference guides, novels, biographies and hundreds of other volumes.

Science. Black Studies. History.

We can learn a lot from all of those pages - thousands upon thousands in this one room alone - but sometimes even all of that is not enough to prepare us.

“'Strategies and Systems for Disaster Survival,'” said Lizz Taylor, reading the title of an old book as she picked it up, turned it over, flipped through the pages and laughed. “I don’t think it’s got a pandemic in there. We need a rewrite.”

If you keep looking, though, you just mind find that rewrite stacked somewhere in this attic at Poor Richard’s Books, or on the shelves of the main floor down below.

Taylor has owned and operated the book shop on West Broadway in Frankfort for 42 years, none of which had been quite as tumultuous as 2020.

“It’s been a challenge,” Taylor told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer, but they are making it.

Still, she needs a solid holiday shopping season before closing the books on what has been a tough year for business.

“It’s significantly down,” she said. “We’re counting on a strong fourth quarter here - but it’s not going to make up for a whole three months of the year.”

Stores across the commonwealth and country are finding themselves in a similar situation: Dealing with inventory issues, capacity restrictions and an uncertain economy; working to overcome weeks of being shut down or suffering slow sales; trying to get out of the ‘red’ without the help of a typical ‘Black Friday.’

This year has strained many businesses, with a number of stores and restaurants being forced to close their doors for good. The holiday shopping season is normally a busy time for retailers, and, this year especially, they are relying on people shopping for gifts to help get them through.

“For retailers large and small, national, local, independent stores - in a lot of ways, the holiday season is the make-or-break season for them,” said Steve McClain with the Kentucky Retail Federation. “This is their big time of year.”

The Kentucky Retail Federation says things do look different this year, but customers are coming back to stores. Consulting firm Deloitte projects holiday sales growth of one to one-and-a-half percent this year nationwide, driven by higher-income families while others may be forced to tighten their belts.

In Lexington, shoppers have already begun flocking to Hamburg, a popular destination especially during the holiday season.

“Santa Claus is still coming, OK?” said Patrick Madden, Hamburg Place attorney. “He’s going to come in a different way. He’s going to wear a mask.”

Madden says that major retailers at the developments have told him that they sometimes do five to 10 percent of their yearly business on Black Friday alone. This year, however, many are spreading out Black Friday deals over several weeks.

“The expectation is, yes, Black Friday is going to be down. It’s not going to be five, 10 percent of your business,” Madden said. “But your overall sales for Christmas hopefully will be made up for by having increased shopping during the two, three weekends on either side of Black Friday. That’s kind of the philosophy right now.”

Still, across Kentucky, many retailers are being careful not to expect too much - especially if Congress does not pass another COVID relief bill or stimulus package soon.

“A lot of people I think are just looking cautiously optimistic that they can hold steady from last year to this year, and maybe increase a little bit,” McClain said.

Owners have adapted. During a time earlier in the year when customers were not allowed inside many shops, many sold more wares online and allowed curbside pickup. (“March, April and May, that was our saving grace, having that,” Taylor said.) But they are also glad for now still to welcome shoppers in their stores.

“I know they won’t be able to pack into the shops like they used to,” Taylor said, “but we hope they look at the windows and enjoy the ambience that Frankfort has, especially at night when it’s lit up for Christmas.”

So they are stocking up and banking on the coronavirus not being able to take away Christmas cheer.

“It’s been a good year in many ways,” she said. “Challenging, for sure. But I’m still hopeful about the final wrap-up of this year.”

She is also hopeful that the lessons learned this year will help as we all get ready to begin a new chapter.

Many retailers and representatives, though, still fear another economic shutdown that could spell doom for their businesses.

Copyright 2020 WKYT. All rights reserved.