COOS BAY — Jeff Dery has a background in business, not sign waving. But on Saturday, he took to the streets with a sign anyway.
“Shop Small, Save BIG, 2DAY,” he waved to drivers passing him on U.S. Highway 101.
Dery, the general manager for Coos Bay’s America’s Mattress, was standing on the street, celebrating Small Business Saturday, a day designed to support local businesses after the early-bird madness of Black Friday sales.
“We want to shop small because we’re supporting the local community,” Dery said. He hoped his sign would encourage passersby to visit the city’s collection of small businesses.
For many business owners, “Shop Small Saturday” means more than ever before during a year fraught with a pandemic, shutdowns, layoffs and stay-home orders pushing customers to online-only and delivery options.
“People are now reluctant to see — especially to try out a mattress,” Dery said.
For a period during the pandemic’s first economic shutdown, Dery was the store’s only employee as he took orders by appointment.
The pandemic taught him lessons about how to stock his store. His business, like many across the country, experienced supply chain problems during the pandemic — the material used to wrap mattress coils got redirected to manufacture face masks, he said.
So with longer wait times to get products in the store, Dery had to increase his selection to ensure he’d have what customers wanted.
“We’ve learned from it, as far as keeping stuff in stock,” Dery said.
Managing inventory was also a pandemic lesson for Suzy Gibbs, who has owned Jennie’s Shoes for about four years and worked in the store for two decades.
Shoe suppliers have also experienced delivery troubles with the closure of some factories due to the virus. Shoe suppliers have started changing what they supply, tending more toward shoes for “essential workers” like health professionals and grocery employees.
“For us, it’s keeping inventory,” Gibbs said.
It’s also a matter of customer preference — Gibbs and D Haevischer, her niece who helps her run the store, say customers have been asking more for shoes they “need” rather than those they “want” during the pandemic.
But in spite of the virus, the pair say customers have recognized the importance of shopping small.
“Our customers have been more aware of supporting local businesses,” Haevisher said.
Gibbs calls the difference between shopping at her store and shopping online the “sit and fit experience,” the process of meeting customers and working with them to fill their needs.
And, while Gibbs’ store has been fairly successful during the pandemic (since shoes are still must-have items), shopping small is also a matter of supporting the community, she said.
“If we want to keep what we have here, we better make sure we take care of those mom and pop shops,” Gibbs said.
A few blocks away, Graham Keller’s Organic Glass Art & Gifts was quieter this weekend than last.
“Now with this pandemic, everyone’s shopping online,” Keller said, adding that customers tend to gravitate toward places they can get discounts.
Keller, who’s owned the store for 11 years, is now the only employee at the store. After the pandemic’s first economic shut down, he couldn’t afford to keep his other employees on the payroll.
Because of the store’s location within direct view of the Boardwalk, Keller’s clientele tends to be more tourists than locals. Over the summer, crowds of tourists in town trying to escape their at-home lockdowns granted the store some reprieve from limited sales during the pandemic’s most strict restrictions.
“The summer was pretty busy,” Keller said. “It didn’t make up for the two months we lost, though.”
Now, with many tourists gone, business has slowed again. Keller hopes that adding some holiday décor to his store’s windows will draw in locals during the slower winter months.
A federal loan from the Small Business Administration and a grant from the CCD Business Development Corporation have helped Keller make his rent payments and keep his business running. He’s hoping things will look up over the next few months.
“Being self-employed, you’ve got to stay optimistic,” Keller said.
Through Dec. 21, the Coos Bay Downtown Association is encouraging residents to shop at local businesses during its “Reindeer Roundup” event. Reindeer decorations will be placed at downtown businesses, and residents can be entered to win a gift basket by sharing photos of the decorations on Facebook.
More information about the event is available on the CBDA’s Facebook page.
For small business owners, the most recent application window for state small business grants for COVID-19 and wildfire impacts is closed, but more information about future grants will be available on the state’s website at www.oregon4biz.com/Coronavirus-Information.