The Transylvania Times -

Retailers Talk Business During Virus – Brevard, NC

 

Last updated 9/30/2020 at 3:32pm

Despite the pandemic, Misty Prichard (above), owner of Hunters & Gatherers, reported record sales. (Times photo by Alex Perri)

Brevard retailers saw a surprising resurgence of business this summer after the initial, financially devastating COVID-19 shutdown in the spring, with some reporting to have had the best summer ever in terms of sales numbers.

"I'd say we're up by probably a third, which is amazing from year to year to be up a third, but it is roaring," said Carl Littlefield, owner of MANtiques on Main Street in downtown Brevard.

Littlefield said his business was closed for eight weeks and opened back in May, and even with his closures, he said June, July, August and September numbers put him in his most profitable summer since opening two years ago.

A handful of other retailers are also reporting record sales, with others reporting numbers on par, or not far off from previous years. Some, however, were more impacted by the pandemic's challenges and reported a financially difficult year.

O.P. Taylor's owner, John Taylor, said he was up double digits for the summer and that having an online presence helped boost sales, when his physical locations were shut down. He said he sold $50,000 worth of jigsaw puzzles over a week and a half, when his brick and mortar stores were shut down.

Taylor said his theory is that many parents didn't spend money on high-priced experiences like summer camps and vacations over the summer and had extra money to spend on toys. He also said since kids are not interacting with other kids much, and they may be sad about having to stay isolated, parents are more willing to spend big money on toys and home entertainment, where in previous years they wouldn't have.

Misty Prichard, owner of Hunters & Gatherers, also reported record sales, despite her store's bar being closed down since March.

"I was so scared that it was just going to be awful because of the pandemic and everything, but even without the festivals and our bar area being open, we have been doing amazing and even beating last year's numbers," Prichard said. "I think a lot of people from all the big cities, where there are tons of cases going on, are flocking to the smaller mountain areas, where there are not as many cases and they feel safer out and about shopping and stuff like that."

Clark Lovelace, the Transylvania County Tourism and the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce executive director, said many small towns in Western North Carolina have seen a similar bounce back in tourism after the initial shutdown as people from more populated areas and cities felt safer traveling to rural destinations.

"Our market is unique in that we don't have much corporate travel," Lovelace said. "We don't have a convention center. We don't have a lot of large headquarters...we have very little of that...that's part of why we're so seasonal because all of our travel is social, recreational travel. "So, in a February or March, where other destinations are having a lot of corporate travelers, even though their social travel is down, we just have social travel. So, our fluctuation from our busiest in July to our slowest in February is a much bigger discrepancy than Asheville or certainly than bigger places like Charlotte and Raleigh. Normally that works against us."

Lovelace said cities such as Raleigh and Charlotte are "really hurting right now" because there are no conventions.

Lovelace said occu-pancy tax rates for accommodations in the county were at "normal" levels for June and July of 2020 after taking a substantial hit in March, April and May, but that traditional accommo-dations, such as hotels and motels, were still significantly down, and short-term rentals, such as Airbnb and VRBO, were at an all-time high, making up the difference.

Ernesto Guzman, of Penny Lane Exchange, said he also had record sales despite many of the camps and festivals that brought him business were canceled this year.

"We had record sales, mainly because Brooks Brothers is going out of business and tie-dye is in," he said. "I'm serious. We sell so much tie-dye – anything from crop tops and Grateful Dead T-shirts and all of our relaxed wear. We lost 10 days in May, and we had the best May ever. And we lost three days in August because we had a flood...but it was still a record month. Brevard has a nice charm, and, so, we're glad we're here to receive everybody."

Connie Edmands, of Broad Street Wines, said her business was considered essential, so she didn't have to shut down. She said she's seen good fortune now that people are dining at home more; they are buying wine more, too. She also said being able to offer curbside pickup, with help from the city-designated parking spot in front of her store, has made it easier for people to purchase in bulk without having to lug cases across town.

Edmands said she's also been offering creative Zoom wine tastings in place of her regular in-store tastings. The continued tourism to the county and pent-up demand have been an unsuspected windfall for some retailers, but some reported they were more impacted by camps and festivals being canceled and COVID-19 precautions.

Brevard Clay owner Stuart Howe said his sales have been down since the pandemic started, mainly because half of his business model is an indoor activity. Howe sells locally made pottery in the front half of his store and has a paint-your-own pottery studio in the back half.

"I've heard from a couple of my friends that some retail places have done okay or even done well," Howe said. "For us, half of our store is an indoor activity, which is what we felt Brevard needed when we opened. However, the indoor part of indoor activity is a lot less appealing at the moment."

He said he's still optimistic that in summer 2021 he will see a strong recovery, but he said he's seen around a 35 percent decrease in sales this summer. Howe said he also hasn't been able to be open as frequently as years past due to the fact that he has a newborn baby and has had to stay home for childcare and that his manager has been on maternity leave for a portion of the summer.

"I want to also be very clear that I support what the camps have done," Howe said. "I support canceling fourth of July festival. I support all of the things that Brevard Music Center (have done). I miss seeing the piano professor, who had bought pottery from me the past two years. That guy did not come to my shop this year, and that's okay. You know, he was an older gentleman, he was being safe and that's more important frankly."

He said he's seen great support from the community and the Heart of Brevard and the organizations that put together the Transylvania Tomorrow grant, and that he is okay with safety coming before his profits for the time being.

A few other retailers have also reported having a rough summer. Sherry Sapp, of Gravy, said the store has no online presence and that relying on foot traffic has caused sales to decrease. Others have said loyal customers have kept them in business this year.

Downtown Chocolates owner George Williams credits a loyal customer base for keeping the business going. (Times photo by Alex Perri)

Spice it to a Tea owner Diane Motter said she's staying afloat with her loyal local customers.

"I'm down over 50 percent of last year, and I assume that I'll probably end up that way over the year," she said. "I'm optimistic. I've been here over seven years now, and my loyal local customers they don't want me to close, so I'm going to try to stick it out...I figure one bad year in seven is okay."

Downtown Chocolates owner George Williams said, "We're probably quite fortunate that we have the customer base we do. We've been here 13 years, and it's our loyal customers that's kept us going...it is the way it is and you make do."

He believes most of the locals try to support the small businesses and that he doesn't have a secret.

He just stays consistent and offers a good product, he said.

 
 

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