Small retailers have ‘guarded optimism’ for Small Business Saturday, holiday season

There was no Small Business Saturday last year for Kris Kleindienst, the owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis. Her independent bookshop did not allow shoppers in its store from March 2020 to April 2021, relying entirely on online sales to survive. This year, the store is welcoming customers into its doors and offering giveaways with certain purchases.

“Last year really was just another day of books being bought online,” Kleindienst said, “and it’s really wonderful heading into the holiday season and business is picking up.”

Small Business Saturday returns this weekend, and small business owners across the state are gearing up for a busy holiday season as pandemic concerns ease among vaccinated shoppers. Many owners are continuing practices adopted during the pandemic, like online shopping, while managing supply chain shortages and welcoming an influx of in-person customers.

“This year, I think there’s a real buzz about getting out and supporting in person as much as you can, obviously still safely,” Nickie Davis, executive director of The District, Columbia’s downtown community improvement district, said during a live event with Missouri Business Alert.

Amid concerns over in-person shopping last year during the holiday season, many small businesses turned to online shopping to stay afloat. E-commerce grew 32.4% in 2020, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Many small business owners are continuing to use online shopping to their advantage this year, even as more shoppers return to their stores.

Kris Kleindienst (left) said she’s excited Left Bank Books is open this holiday season after an extended closure. | Courtesy of Kleindienst

“I don’t think you’re going to put that cow back in the barn,” said Brad Jones, the Missouri director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “I mean, it’s had a significant impact.”

For Kleindienst, e-commerce revenue was the only way her business was able to stay afloat. Even though Left Bank Books is now welcoming customers back into its store, Kleindienst said the retailer still kept lots of the online business gained during its closure.

“I guess the best outcome of COVID, if there is one, is that more people learned that they could shop with their local bookstore online,” Kleindienst said.

Still, supply chain issues are on the minds of many business owners seeking to maintain inventory during the upcoming holiday season. According to a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business, 48% of owners reported supply chain disruptions having a significant impact on their operations. Jones said he may not see the full effects of supply chain shortages on holiday shopping until the second week of December if businesses cannot get inventory for their customers to buy.

“For the most part, I’m hoping that we get through the holiday season, and everybody’s got the supplies and the things that they need to either sell or to produce,” Jones said.

However, as vaccinations increase and customers venture out for their holiday shopping, business owners who have weathered the pandemic remain hopeful for a strong fourth quarter.

“I think there’s a guarded optimism out there in the small business community,” Jones said, “that this is going to be a really good holiday cycle for them.”

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