Holidays ‘make or break’ for Daytona shops amid lingering COVID crisis

Laveta Brigham

Clayton Park   | The Daytona Beach News-Journal Black Friday will be different this holiday season COVID-19 necessitates a bit of a change to Black Friday tradition. Here’s how stores are adapting to this year’s global pandemic. DAYTONA BEACH — The holiday shopping season is make or break time for retailers […]

Clayton Park
 
| The Daytona Beach News-Journal

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DAYTONA BEACH — The holiday shopping season is make or break time for retailers every year, but more so this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While U.S. retail sales are expected to rise slightly this holiday season, e-commerce giants are expected to gobble up the lion’s share. Foot traffic is forecast to be down for brick-and-mortar stores.

Steve Weinreich, owner of the independent Total Entertainment Music Store at 501 W. International Speedway Blvd. in Daytona Beach, hopes that won’t be the case for him.

“The holidays, that’s our make or break,” he said. “The month of December is always our biggest month and I don’t think this year will be an exception. It’s true that COVID has created uncertainty for retailers across the nation, but we’ve got a decent flow of folks coming in pretty much just as normal.”

“In fact, if you take April out of the mix, when we were closed the entire month, our sales are probably up 10% this year,” he said.

A number of national retailers haven’t been so lucky. The California-based Guitar Center chain, which has a store at One Daytona across the street from Daytona International Speedway, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this past weekend. Its stores are expected to remain open.

Jeff Sidwell, owner of the independent Bon! Gourmet specialty wine and cheese shop at 44 E. Granada Blvd. in Ormond Beach, said business is actually up for his store this year. He credits the increase to a combination of having a strong base of regular customers as well as people spending more time at home as opposed to going out to area restaurants or for entertainment.

“We’ve found more people doing happy hours at home and with their neighbors,” said Sidwell. “We’ve seen an increase in sales of wine and cheese as well as gift baskets and the accoutrements that go with cheese.”

Sidwell added that the increased business this year has come despite having been closed the entire month of April and despite his lack of an e-commerce website. The store also remains closed to walk-in foot traffic for coronavirus safety reasons. It instead offers a curbside pickup service to customers who phone, text or email orders in advance.

James Sass, owner of Abraxas Books at 256 S. Beach St. in downtown Daytona Beach, said the holiday shopping season is his busiest time of year, but not because of people buying gifts.

“Where I make bank during the holidays is from people in town to visit family,” the longtime independent used-book seller said. “I have a very loyal annual out-of-town clientele. Everybody has family here it seems. People don’t usually give used books as gifts. I do get an uptick in gift certificates. My busiest days is the week right after Christmas.”

Sass acknowledged the number of out-of-town customers visiting the Daytona Beach area could be down this holiday season.

AAA auto club recently forecast that the number of Americans traveling this holiday season will be down at least 10% compared with a year ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m honestly expecting it (customer traffic this holiday season) to be way less because people aren’t traveling as much this year,” Sass said.

Up the street, Miguel Nin, owner of the Daytona Cigar Club store at 200 S. Beach St., said this has been his worst-ever year, even compared to when his shop was flooded in past years because of hurricanes.

That’s because unlike hurricanes which come and go, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to drag on for months.

“We’ve been operating the past six months at about 25%,” he said, although he added that business has picked up in recent weeks.

Nin said he is hoping to get a boost from Small Business Saturday this coming weekend. The event was created several years ago by American Express as a way of encouraging consumers to remember to support local businesses.

“I got everybody in the community helping me,” Nin said. “I’m hanging in there.”

‘Everything online’: Black Friday, holiday shopping in a pandemic will look different

Nin is is the process of finding a new location as the new owner of the building that he is currently leasing is set to begin an extensive remodel to make way for the M Lounge restaurant/bar that will include a 12-room boutique hotel on the second floor as well as a rooftop bar.

Nin said the plan is for him to partner with the new landlord to reopen his cigar store next year on a portion of the ground floor under a new name: M Cigars. Nin will be a minority owner of that new store, while continuing to operate his Daytona Cigar Club store as 100% owner at its yet-to-be determined new location.

Mark Madden, owner of Madden’s Ace Hardware stores in Holly Hill, South Daytona and Daytona Beach Shores, said he is expecting to do well this holiday season, despite the pandemic.

“The holidays are usually a good time of year for us. We’re still practicing social distancing in our stores but we’re trying to get back to normal as best we can,” he said.

“Our Black Friday weekend sales are actually being spread out over a couple of weeks this year, We sell a lot of grills, power tools and, of course, your basic Christmas lights and decorations,” he said. “But like most retailers, we’re still having a hard time keeping disinfectants and other cleaning supplies in stock (because of the pandemic). We’ve got plenty of paper goods, though.”

Madden said he has added some workers in anticipation of a busy holiday season. “We’re still looking for more,” he said.

Steve Weinreich of Total Entertainment said his biggest competition these days comes from online retailers, not big-box chains.

“We compete by knocking 5 to 15% off of what Sweetwater(.com) and Amazon sells it for,” Weinreich said. “We don’t have a Total Entertainment e-tail site, but we do sell on reverb.com. This year, our online sales have increased 400 to 500% and now account for just under 10% of our total sales.

“Fortunately, most people still like to be able to play an instrument and get a sense of the feel and weight of it before making a decision to buy. That’s something you can’t do online,” said Weinreich, who opened his store at its original location in Holly Hill in 1989.

Weinreich said his store also offers the advantage of having longtime employees all of whom play musical instruments themselves, including some who perform music professionally either in bands or as solo artists.

His 10 employees are able to speak to customers from personal experience about their preferences in terms of instruments and amplifiers and other gear as well as share tips. The store also employs two on-site music teachers.

That’s what keeps customer Dan Willman of Port Orange coming back to shop for instruments in person at Total Entertainment, despite the allure of e-commerce sites.

“I like to support local stores and to be honest Steve keeps his prices competitive even with online,” said Willman, who plays guitar in his spare time. Willman recently dropped by the store to finally plunk his money down for a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar that he had been eyeing for quite some time.

“I’ve been coming here for five to six years now. Steve always treats me well. I walk out happy every time,” Willman said.

Previously: Is a traditional Thanksgiving gathering safe? Volusia-Flagler health officials say no

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