“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by shopping local,” at least that’s the sentiment the downtown Wadena Buddy the Elf (Wadena mayor George Deiss) shared with people on Nov. 14. He offered presents of coupons to All Around Divas, 1776 Clothing Company and Hometown Crafts and Fabrics who were all having sales that weekend as well.
As customers steadily came into the stores and enjoyed the sales, business owners shared how the surge in COVID-19 cases and the reopening of Hwy 10 have impacted business in the days leading up to the weekend sales.
“We’ve definitely seen the community come together and help small businesses,” said All Around Divas store manager Sarah Hanna. “They knew we needed it and they really did step up when they needed to, so we’re very grateful for that.”
The store has also offered online options, which offers safety for everyone, as Hanna said. Business owners across downtown are continuing to offer services while aiming to help customers and staff members remain safe, including curbside pick-up or to-go food. Owner of Make Me Wine Kim Wendt said the surge in cases has increased the number of people using this service.
“People just don’t want to come in the store, and I am 100% OK with them calling me and asking if I would be willing to bring something out to the curb for them just because they don’t want to come in, they don’t want to spread anything,” Wendt said.
While encouraging the variety of options, 1776 Clothing Company owner Paulette Ohm reminds people to shop local rather than ordering non-local items online, which hurts the community. This way businesses can still exist, as Ohm said while discussing a Facebook post that poses the question, “What three independent businesses do you love and not want to lose?” as a part of the organization The 3/50 Project.
As Christmas approaches, Hometown Crafts and Fabrics was one of the busiest stores downtown on Saturday with their 15th annual Christmas open house sale. Throughout the fall, owner Cindy McCullough said they have been “thrilled with the number of customers we have.”
“Sales have been good, and the challenge is always having employees who are not quarantining, so we’ve had to close a few days because we don’t have enough employees healthy enough to work,” McCullough said. The store was closed at the end of October. “For right now today (Nov. 13) it’s fine, but tomorrow it could all change.”
Both Wendt and Ohm said business depends on the day, whether “slower than normal” or “fantastic,” as Wendt said.
“It’s got its peaks and valleys,” Ohm said. “With the outbreaks, it’s definitely quieted down again. With the numbers on the rise people are hunkering down.”
The surge in cases also brings the question of if businesses will close again.
“I feel like everybody looks at it differently,” Hanna said about the recent surge in cases. “It’s scary to think of but it’s also scary to think of having to close our doors, too.”
"“I just hope people continue to shop local and support local and to remember that shopping online it impacts everybody."
— Paulette Ohm
Shortages of items like yeast continue due to the pandemic, though Wendt is hoping a large shipment will catch her up.
Business owners believe the reopening of Hwy 10 on Nov. 3 has had a positive impact on businesses, though Ohm said it’s difficult to differentiate with the increase in cases beginning in mid-October. Hanna said the moving rather than stalled traffic is helpful.
“When it (Hwy 10) was closed there was always a traffic jam out front so the parking spots were generally taken so I think that had a lot to do with people weren’t able to find a spot to shop, but now … there’s more traffic moving through there so I think that’s definitely helped a lot with getting people in the door,” Hanna said.
Customers from Hwy 10 towns like Perham, New York Mills and Staples are also returning to the stores, as McCullough said.
“We see more shoppers stopping from out of town. I think during the construction some people from surrounding towns opted not to come to Wadena but now that it’s open they’re more apt to come on over,” McCullough said.