Over the past 10 months, we’ve learned the importance of family, friends—and the local economy. While retail suffered mightily during the spring quarantine, shop owners dug deep to find new ways of connecting with customers. So before you turn to Amazon or a big-box retailer, check out our locally owned stores.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Known and loved for its chic artisan-made goods, worKS is housed in a building of rather humble origins. It began life as a gas station— something owner Tara Dugan didn’t give much thought to until the height of quarantine. She realized the building resembled a fast-food joint. Shortly thereafter, she had a drive-thru installed.
Covered for inclement weather, the worKS drive-thru has proven quite popular. Purchases are brought to customers’ cars on a beautiful tray. “Men really love it,” Dugan says. “They can shop and pay online, then zoom right into the drive-thru and be on their way.”
Business has been brisk at worKS, due in large part to COVID-related nesting. Home décor, cookery and gourmet food items have been hot sellers. “It’s all about being cozy and at home,” Dugan says. “It’s self-soothing and reminding yourself of what’s important.”
Chocolate, pancake mix, maple syrup, candles, lotions and jewelry are also popular. “We’re the anti-Amazon,” she says. “It’s all personalized service—those are the strengths we play to.”
So far, worKS has retained all of its vendors, and there’s a waiting list for space. Store owners—especially those from Philadelphia—have closed their sole proprietorships and are looking for collaborative enterprises. Dugan won’t say who’s on the waiting list, but she notes that big-name boutiques have come calling. “They would be amazing additions, so I’m sorry to say no,” she says. “We have a full house.”
Small comforts: Ceramic mugs from Pam Lau, hand-poured candles from Zoet Bathlatier and locally made syrup from Whiskey Hollow are just a few of the more modest items that bring a lot of joy—especially when they’re part of a worKS gift basket.
Jewelry: Handmade pieces from joeyfivecents, Meghann Elyse, Northern Roots and other worKS artisans will be even more popular this year, thanks to their local ties and mid-level price points.
Cookery: Commercial grade but made by hand, Wood & Willow pizza cutters, Lingerlong Woodworking charcuterie and cutting boards, and A Rossi Creations’ handmade bowls are utilitarian tools that double as home décor pieces.
After 24 years in business, Home Grown continues to live up to its name. Growing the shop-from-home leg of her business has helped owner Elizabeth Bloom keep her housewares and gift boutique open during the quarantine and beyond. Bloom and her staff have relied heavily on social media—something they’d only dabbled in before COVID-19. “Now we work hard at it, posting every morning,” says Bloom. “We actually enjoy it. It’s a great way to show people what’s in the store.”
Home Grown’s barware, serving pieces, frames and decorative accessories have been popular pandemic purchases. It seems Bloom’s customers spent the summer buying new things to update their homes. August 2020’s sales were on par with the previous year, which had been the best ever for Home Grown. “Our décor business took off,” Bloom says. “People are looking at their homes with a critical eye and replacing things that were outdated or broken. We heard a lot of, ‘I can’t look at that ceramic bowl centerpiece anymore.’”
For Chanukah and Christmas, Bloom is banking on tableware. Celebrations will likely be smaller, but people will want to make them special. Updating holiday decorations is one way to do that. Creating tablescapes is another—with platters, candlesticks, table runners, fresh greens and candles. People will still buy gifts for neighbors, colleagues and friends, but Bloom predicts they’ll spend a bit less than usual. “We’re amping up the $50 price point category,” she says. “The benefit of that? People can buy for themselves as well as for others.”
Throws: Cuddly, warm and cozy is exactly what we want right now, which makes throws one of the hottest gifts of the season. Home Grown has them in all kinds of fabrics and patterns—and they’re a great way to update a room.
Luxury fragrances: Regular hand washing is now a public health necessity, so we may as well be doing it with good-smelling soap. Those items—plus candles, diffusers and other ways to add scent to homes—are among Bloom’s best-selling gifts.
Games: Canasta is making a comeback, as are tic-tac-toe and mahjong. Replace game boxes that get stuffed into closets with beautiful, sophisticated-looking games that can be put on display and double as home décor pieces.
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Open for less than a year when quarantine orders were issued, Reads & Company hadn’t instated any e-commerce platforms. In fact, most independent bookstores try to de-emphasize buying online. “There’s already a giant company doing that,” says co-owner Jason Hafer.
Necessity compelled Hafer to partner with Bookshop.org, an affiliate program that handles order fulfillment, giving stores a percentage of sales. Through its Reads & Company profile, Hafer makes recommendations and compiles book lists almost the same way he’d do in person. “It worked out well for us,” he says. “The value proposition of our store is as a community center—and we’re able to simulate that online.”
Hafer’s virtual events have also taken off, far surpassing Reads & Company’s in-person capacity of 80-100 people. Some author events have drawn as many as 350. “We get people from all the continents who find out about the events on social media and tune in,” says Hafer.
Social media has played a huge role in keeping Reads & Company open, as has Phoenixville’s support of its shops. Closing Bridge Street to traffic helped local restaurants expand outdoor seating while giving Hafer room for sidewalk sales. It hasn’t made up for Phoenixville’s cancelled street fairs, but he’s still gearing up for a busy holiday season, ordering three times more new books than he normally would.
“This way, I won’t run out,” Hafer says.
Novels and more: Books about far-off places, science fiction and romance have been selling well—and so have self-improvement titles. Released this past October, Jerry Seinfeld’s Is This Anything? (Simon & Schuster, 480 pages) is his first new first book in 25 years. Another October release, The Searcher (Viking, 464 pages) by Irish mystery writer Tana French, is also on Hafer’s bestseller list. And coming Nov. 17: Barack Obama’s long-awaited memoir, A Promised Land (Penguin Random House/Crown, 768 pages).
Tarot cards: An uncertain future has folks looking anywhere for guidance. Especially popular with millennials, tarot cards come in beautifully designed options and make great affordable gifts.
Activity books: These have become a popular way for parents to occupy kids that doesn’t involve TV and video games. Another sure bet is Grime and Punishment (Graphix, 240 pages), the latest in Dav Pilkey’s “Dog Man” series.
From the minute Fairman’s Skate Shop reopened in May, business has been booming. “We can’t keep things in stock because they’re flying out the door,” says manager Steve Lancello.
A West Chester staple for more than 40 years, Fairman’s has a loyal following among local skaters who love the store’s graphically bold decks, many of which fall under the store’s eponymous label. The store also carries Salmon and Deluxe Distribution decks and hardware. “What’s popular changes 24/7,” says Lancello. “Every season, companies come up with a new run of graphics, and everyone wants them.”
Fairman’s customers now include many skater newbies who’ve turned to the sport as a way to get outdoors. “Most are in the 7-14 age range, but we have people in their 50s trying skateboards,” Lancello says.
Stymied by slow deliveries, Fairman’s has been stocking up on decks, Vans sneakers, hoodies and other gear. Holiday designs are due this month. “We waited for two months for a delivery over the summer,” says Lancello. “But the good news is that the items sold out almost instantly.”
Skateboards: The Fairman’s brand is the shop’s bestseller, and Deluxe Distribution is a close second. Spitfire, Anti-Hero and Krooked are a few of the labels under the Deluxe umbrella. Each has distinct graphics and colors.
Vans shoes: Available in a mind-blowing number of styles, Vans are the sneaker of choice for most skaters. Sold at a mid-level price point, they’re a perennial holiday favorite.
Gear: Hoodies, beanies, long-sleeve shirts and jackets are must-haves for skaters undeterred by cold weather.