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Caribou small businesses seeing uptick in holiday shoppers

CARIBOU, Maine — Even with the local upsurge in COVID-19 cases, small business owners in Caribou have a reason to be optimistic: more people than last year are purchasing holiday gifts in person rather than relying solely on online shopping.

That trend is a welcome one for entrepreneurs who do not have the staff or resources to invest in online deliveries, including Debbie Sutherland, owner of Brambleberry Market, which sells country-themed home decor, jewelry, scarves and other specialty items.

“The [total] sales for this October and November are ahead of those months last year,” Sutherland said. 

Sutherland has owned and operated Brambleberry Market since 2010 and noted that the months following the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 were the most challenging. Thanks to a small federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, she was able to maintain the store and has gradually seen increased business from local customers and tourists.

Though online shopping has continued to be a draw for younger customers, Sutherland has seen more people opt for the more interactive experience of shopping in-person. Delays in package shipping across the country have also encouraged many people to invest in local businesses, she said.

“One lady told me that she ordered a gift in October but won’t be getting it before Christmas,” Sutherland said. “Many people have said that they are only shopping local for the holidays, and that’s refreshing to hear.”

Other longtime business owners have noticed more people venturing out into community businesses despite continued COVID safety precautions.

Like Brambleberry, Noyes Flower & Plant Shoppe requires all customers to wear masks. But owners Kimber and Cynthia Noyes have noticed that in-person shopping is still occurring around the same level as phone-based orders and home deliveries.

The Noyeses have operated their shop for 46 years and have gained a loyal following of regular customers. Even during the pre-vaccine holiday shopping season of December 2020, their store saw an 8 percent increase in sales.

“People were more resistant to traveling to Bangor and so we were doing a lot more home deliveries,” Kimber Noyes said. “With the upsurge in cases now, we’re still seeing more hesitancy [toward in-person shopping] but more people are comfortable coming inside.”

Thus far, the florist shop has seen an 11.5 percent increase in sales over last December. 

The Noyeses credit their “extremely loyal” customer base and focus on handmade items for helping the shop remain busy throughout the pandemic and holiday season.

“We design and customize our orders based on what our customers want. We can give them fresh flowers and homemade Christmas wreaths that are made daily,” Kimber Noyes said. “That’s not something you can get online.”

At Monica’s Scandinavian Imports, which specializes in Swedish and Scandinavian-inspired gift items, store manager Betty Thompson has seen continuous local support throughout the holiday season.

Last December saw a 25 percent increase in sales over December 2019 and this month is on track to match those numbers, Thompson said. Those trends are consistent with others that the store has experienced throughout the year.

“We’ve bounced back tremendously [since the 2020 lockdown],” Thompson said. “Every month this year our sales have been more than what they were every month last year.”

Despite the prevalence of online shopping, Thompson credits local word-of-mouth advertising and social media for making Monica’s a popular destination. She has noticed more customers seeking out the unique items and interactive experience that is more common at local stores.

“I think [because of the pandemic] people know how important it is to have these businesses in our community,” Thompson said. “More people have been saying that they want to shop local as much as they can.”

CARIBOU, Maine — December 8, 2021 — Debbie Sutherland, owner of Brambleberry Market, fixes a Christmas display at the Sweden Street store. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

CARIBOU, Maine — December 8, 2021 — Monica’s Scandinavian Imports employee Karen Conroy shows off a Christmas-themed display of items. Monica’s, along with other Caribou businesses, are seeing increased foot traffic this holiday season. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

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