Retail sales up and down

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THUNDER BAY – When COVID-19 hit nearly two years ago, Amber Laudone thought about opening a back room burner showroom.

The Thunder Bay entrepreneur who started her candy business seven years ago even closed for a few months, believing she would try to wait until the pandemic is over.

But after her customers started calling, Laudone started making her chocolate and candy “bouquets” again in her kitchen.

With COVID-19 on the rise again thanks to the Omicron variant, the decision to continue filling home orders while promoting its products on social media sites like Facebook has been prescient.

Turns out Laudone had a pretty decent Christmas season in terms of sales.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she remarked on Tuesday.

According to the Retail Council of Canada, the six weeks of holiday shopping in late fall remains essential to a merchant’s livelihood, accounting for up to 20 percent of total annual sales in some cases.

The way local retailers fared over the holiday season as the pandemic dragged on appears to have varied by industry.

Dan Talbot, who has operated a florist in Thunder Bay for eight years after a long career with CP Rail, said the pandemic has been a near-disaster for the fresh flower trade.

Restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend weddings and funerals – traditional events for florists – have withered demand for flower arrangements and gifts.

“It’s not the only reason, but it’s one of the main reasons I decided to retire,” said Talbot. “When everyone is downsizing (due to the pandemic) one of the first things you cut out are the items that are considered luxury.”

Supply chain issues in South America, where many fresh flowers are sold by North American retailers, have not helped, said Talbot, who officially retires on Friday. He said he was looking forward to it.

Some businesses just manage to keep going, even in the worst of times.

Cosimo Riccio, who has operated a music store in Thunder Bay for nearly half a century, said his customers continue to find solace in guitars, pianos and other instruments as they sound another year dominated by a pandemic.

Music, he said, “helps keep the mind in order. It allows you to stay calm.

Christmas sales at its Simpson Street outlet weren’t “great,” Riccio admitted, but “we’ve moved a lot. We still pay the bills.

Operators at other companies who believed the pandemic could give their bottom line a boost said it didn’t work.

A Thunder Bay upholsterer, who did not want his name used, said advance orders resulting from the high cost of new furniture and supply chain issues did not materialize as he predicted.

Sales “have been kind of down this year,” he said.

Certain items are considered by consumers to be a luxury and a must have.

Thunder Bay spa retailer Gerry Jorgenson said customers should be prepared to order in advance.

Sales of tubs, which are made in the United States, have been flat throughout the pandemic, and not just over Christmas, Jorgenson said.


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