Albert Lea stores busy in days before Christmas

Published 5:25 am Wednesday, December 22, 2021

By Alex Guerrero

With less than a week before Christmas, the final push to complete holiday shopping is on, and complicating matters is the uptick in COVID-19 cases fueled by the emergence of the omicron variant.

Last year’s holiday season, with limited store capacities and mask mandates throughout the country, led to a surge in online shopping. But the pandemic hasn’t stopped local residents from venturing into stores this year.

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“It’s been great,” said Angela Moller, owner of Homestead Boutique. “People have been really getting out and shopping locally and doing a great job of supporting all our small businesses in town.”

She attributed the increase in local shopping to shipping delays and the bottleneck of goods coming from overseas and limiting the amount of product bigger box stores have.

“People are really looking to the small businesses to fill needs in every area for everyone on their shopping list,” she said.

Moller said during the shopping season she’s tried to keep the store as clean as possible for her in-store customers. She’s also had an increase of online shoppers opting for curb-side pickup or having items delivered to their doors.

“We’re just offering lots of different ways for people to shop to kind of meet their needs however they feel most comfortable,” she said.

Kellie Steele, owner of EJ Mercantile, described this year’s shopping season as great.

“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “A lot more people have been shopping locally, which we love and need.”

Because the store was open to shoppers last year, she said she hadn’t seen a difference in the number of shoppers.

“Maybe indoor shopping isn’t as high as it was last year,” she said.

Becky Johnson, owner of Between Friends Boutique, described business as great as well and said last-minute sales have been good, with a lot of customers looking for Christmas decor and other practical items.

“They’re looking for scarves, gloves, jewelry, candles, things that you don’t have to size,” she said. “We’re seeing more holiday or more formal wear now that people are able to get out and gather with other people.”

Tom Staker, co-owner of Whimzy toy shop, described the holiday shopping season as crazy and overwhelming. And while business has improved this year, the popularity of small business shopping has left him with another problem: getting product on the shelves.

“It’s the logistics,” he said. “The shipping challenges that are going on all over the country for the last 18 months are still continuing. We order 100 items… [and] we get 20 of them…. And the rest just trickle in.”

This year’s must-have toys include anything fidget, including poppers and other items to occupy children’s hands.