Despite supply chain headaches and increasing food costs, Dorchester retailers and restaurants are reporting a great start to the holiday season as shoppers stay close to home to avoid crowds – a trend merchants hope will continue throughout the month and beyond.
Following 2020’s move to online gifting as holiday shopping fell in the path of Covid’s “second surge” – largely at the expense of local business – this year is markedly different, according to some retailers in the neighborhood.
“We’re already having a really good season,” said Lynda Watson of Streamline Antiques in Lower Mills. “The fall was really good for us and so far, it looks like we’re going to have a really good holiday as well. I think a lot of people are staying close and are really into the buying local idea. I’ve heard people say that. They are just very eager to be out and about after last year and that has translated into people buying locally,” she said.
Her biggest seller has been vintage bar ware, vintage and modern jewelry, and unique Christmas ornaments.
Meanwhile, in Fields Corner, Main Streets director Jackey West Devine said many small businesses are doing well as people avoid crowds this holiday season, but she couched that with a warning about rising food prices in restaurants.
“We definitely see this as a time when our small businesses could be celebrated,” she said. “In a lot of ways our local businesses have done well because people are home and don’t want to be in big crowds. They don’t want to go downtown as much.”
Devine said that supporting eateries by buying gift cards is a good option.
“A $50 gift card at one of the retailers, such as the many Boba tea shops, that’s going to get you a number of visits,” she said. “You get to experience the menu. For students and young people, that’s a real treat.”
She added that it is best to pick up take-out orders during the holidays as opposed to using delivery services.“If you’re looking to go the extra step during the holidays, it makes a difference to go to the restaurant to get take-out. It’s just an extra step of generosity,” she said.
It has been a shopping season tied to global supply issues for Jack Pelletier at Ashmont Cycles, who said delays earlier in year have left him with a lot of inventory for the holidays.
“I have been telling people if you see something and we have it, they should buy it,” he said. “Don’t go home and think about it. What we’re hearing is the supply chain situation is going to be the same in 2022 as it was this year. For the holidays for me, I have bike inventory, which is great. I do try to tell people this coming year is forecast to be as unpredictable as this past year with bike deliveries…It’s just a lot of ‘Who knows?’”
One of the key advantages for small businesses in the neighborhood is that they can take shipping uncertainties out of the equation as they have items available on the spot. That’s opposed to questions this season around shipping schedules for online retail. Pelletier said he’s hearing that dynamic playing out among his customer base.
“I’ve had many people say to me that they could order it from Amazon, but if they can get it from me, they would prefer to do that. That’s a general thought that comes across a lot more…An online vendor, their business is to sell things and not so much to provide customer service like a brick-and-mortar shop in the neighborhood.”
Greater Ashmont Main Street director Jeanne Dasaro said there is a good opportunity for boutique vendors in the district, as they have inventory on the shelves.
On Small Business Saturday in late November, she said, they held a holiday pop-up at Ashmont Station with several local vendors, and it went well. That was a big lift for many of those sellers, and an easy shopping trip for those in the neighborhood.
“Many of them also during Covid-19 started to have an online presence and they are increasing that too,” Dasaro added.
Like all the local retailers, Pelletier said he is grateful for the support from the community. “It’s coming up on 11 years for this business and I’m just grateful the community has continued to be so supportive,” he said.
Holiday time win-win for vendors, the Mather School
Success for the Mather School Parent Council and a group of local Dorchester product makers came in the form of a box this holiday season.
Teaming up with local vendors, Mather parents captured lightning in a bottle this holiday season to help raise money for field trips and to help local businesses and vendors sell more during the holidays through ‘Made in Dorchester’ boxes.
The effort led to the sale of slightly more than 200 boxes for the holiday fundraiser, an effort that ended on Dec. 15.
Jane Donaghey, president of the Mather Parent Council, said they were trying to figure out a way to raise money for field trips and extras at the Meetinghouse Hill school, and at the same time somehow support local businesses and vendors still struggling from the effects of Covid-19.
The remedy was ‘Made in Dorchester’ gift boxes.
The Mather School Parent Council teamed up with a group of Dorchester-based product companies and businesses to offer the first ‘Made in Dorchester’ boxes for the holidays. Seth Daniel photo
“We were trying to come up with fundraising ideas because our group has been grappling with the pandemic over the past year,” said Donaghey. “We wanted to be able to have funding available for things like field trips and wanted a creative way to do that. We decided to try to contact several local Dorchester-made product companies and get people to know what’s made in Dorchester and help them to know what to buy that’s local. We’ve located all these great vendors and businesses, so people don’t have to do the legwork of finding out who these great local vendors are.”
The featured vendors included Top Shelf Cookies, Triple Decker Candle Co., Goodnow Farms Chocolate featuring Boston Harbor Distillery spirits,Vietnamese Coffee roasted by Reign Drink Lab, Dot Bee Co, home.stead bakery, Jesse Haley Gifts, and Renovation Husbands.
“We think it’s a great mix of food and created things from the neighborhood,” she said. “The vendors thought it was a great idea and we’ve gotten a great response. It’s been a rush, but everyone responded quickly.”
She said the numbers of orders has led to a great fundraiser for the school and a lot of sales and publicity for Dorchester-made products and vendors.
“We are the first publicly funded school in the nation. At the same time, it might help people come to know these Dorchester products, and hopefully they like them and see all the good that’s happening here.”