Big box retailers have moved mountains to prepare for the holiday season. Clogged ports and a shortage of truck drivers, among other pandemic-related challenges, have forced national retail chains to pay substantial sums to move freight by airplane and overorder goods.
But for many of San Antonio’s independent retailers, the scene is very different. Those that source locally are insulated from the most immediate effects of the supply chain reckoning, while others enjoy the flexibility that comes with running a small ship.
These mom-and-pop retailers stand to gain from what could be record spending levels this holiday season with far fewer headaches than those suffered by major retailers.
Take Mission Crafts Chandlery on the South Side, near Mission San José. The candles that make up the bulk of its product are crafted in a wax-splattered workshop in the building’s backroom, mere yards from the checkout counter. The other goods it sells — ceramic ornaments, soaps, jams and preserves, among other gift products — come almost entirely from artisans in the area.
“We try to keep it as local as possible,” said owner Marcie Anguiano, who doubles as the candlemaker. As a result, her supply chain problems are minuscule. She offers one example: She had to swap out the supplier for the glass jars that house her candles. The new jars look identical to the old ones.
Independent retailers all over town tell a similar story. At the Pearl location of Feliz Modern, a small shop selling gifts and home décor, co-owner Ginger Diaz reported protection from the turbulent winds affecting big box retailers because most of its goods are sourced either locally or from Mexico. What international goods it does sell were ordered months ago and are just coming in now.
Like some local store owners, Diaz said Feliz Modern has seen its best year yet.
Many shop owners and some retail consultants said more people appear to be shopping more at local stores this year, following a trend established early in the coronavirus pandemic.
David Doyle, co-owner of Sunset & Co., a relatively large local store for hardware, home goods and gifts, attributed at least part of its “significant boost in the last 18 months” to people shopping locally and sticking close to home. Other factors included the store’s expansion and its new online ordering system.
Buy Local Season, established last week by mayoral proclamation, is aimed at recognizing the importance of supporting independent San Antonio businesses. It kicks off this weekend on Small Business Saturday and runs through Dec. 31.
“Shifting just 10 percent of household spending to local-independent businesses keeps a larger share of dollars in our region, stimulates a multiplier effect and creates new jobs,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a news release Friday.
For every $100 spent at local retailers, restaurants and service providers, $68 is recirculated into the local economy, the release states. Local shopping also boosts local charities, reduces environmental impact and supports regional culture and identity, according to the release.
A shift toward local shopping comes at a fortunate time for these small-business owners. Retail sales jumped in October for a third straight month, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported Tuesday. Spending rose by 1.7% over the previous month and 16.3% over October 2020. Part of that was due to rising prices, but the increases stand even when adjusting for inflation.
And the consumer splurge is expected to continue through the holiday season. Consulting firm Deloitte expects a 7%-9% increase in retail sales this holiday season over last year. AlixPartners expects an even greater 10%-13% increase.
Mickey Quinn, who owns consulting firm Retail Level Up, said that although supply issues do impact many of them, small retailers have a relative advantage in some regards. Chief among them is small retailers’ ability to pivot quickly and make merchandising changes on the fly.
For big retailers, “it’s like trying to turn a giant ship around,” she said.
A key example comes from GOOD Goods, a home goods store in Alamo Heights that sources many of its products from overseas, including India, Indonesia, Peru and Mexico. Owner D’Ette Cole said the shop’s eclectic offerings give it more latitude. “We go with what we can get,” she said.
“We’ve been flying by the seat of our pants for the last two years,” Cole said.
And because it’s a small batch retailer working directly with makers, she said its imports are less affected than those of national retailers.
But it’s not all good news for local retailers. Supply chain problems have taken a bite out of those with a business model dependent on fast and frequent overseas shipping.
California’s Boutique, which sells fast fashion from Los Angeles out of a Southside storefront in PicaPica Plaza, has been hampered by clogged ports on the West Coast.
Owner Melodie Rivera said that getting clothes from California isn’t a problem, but her California suppliers have been slow to get new shipments in. Rivera’s selection of men’s clothing, in particular, has shrunk.
“I’m dealing with what I have until they get their containers,” she said. As a result, “it’s been kind of slow at the store.”
For those seeking to shop locally this season, LiftFund, a San Antonio-based nonprofit serving small businesses across several Southern states, has an online tool allowing viewers to browse and search its member businesses. Buy Local Grow SA, a 2020 initiative Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff support in partnership with the Maestro Entrepreneur Center, provides additional resources including a small-business directory.