How Blue Water businesses are promoting holiday shopping in the times of COVID-19

The late winter holiday season has the notorious reputation as being one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year. For many business owners, the holiday season is where they get the majority of their shopping traffic. And for that reason, local businesses promote their stores with huge sales and festive events as a way to drive shoppers to their doors. However, due to the uncertainty brought forth by COVID-19, many shoppers have stopped their trips to their favorite local spots, and have instead turned to other major retailers or online shopping giants, like Amazon. This has forced local retailers to take a step back, reevaluate their options, and think up some fun new and safe initiatives to gain back their holiday crowd.

The backbone of every community is its local businesses, and the backbone of every local business is their community.

As a way to bring in customers and support local businesses, creative events have been planned throughout the year to stimulate shopper turnout. Cynthia Cutright, of the Port Huron Downtown Development Authority, has been working on some of these events. A new Cocoa Crawl, says Cutright, will take place on Saturday, Dec. 19, throughout Downtown Port Huron. Participating businesses will be offering customers hot chocolate as a fun way to drive some more traffic downtown – and it’s a great way to help holiday shoppers stay warm.

Another initiative in the works to drive traffic downtown are gift cards, which will launch in the new year. Until then, Cutright and the DDA are focused on drawing folks to local retail to shop and support during this difficult holiday season.

Mannina’s Wine House is updating its inventory for the holidaysTucked in St. Clair’s Riverview Plaza sits Mannina’s Wine House. And during this year of COVID-19 complications and cancelations, Mannina’s is embracing change. One of the biggest hurdles facing the Winehouse and many other local restaurants is the inability to serve guests indoors.

“We have been focusing on promoting new menus for carry-out,” says Annette Meldrum, owner of Mannina’s Wine House. And adding new foods to grow their simplistic menus is one tactic that Meldrum is implementing to combat the hurdle. Unique breakfast crepes and a lovely breakfast charcuterie board, with the push of carry-out dining, are growing to be a very popular staple of Mannina’s menu.

“Covid has made us reinvent ourselves and we have to think outside the box.”

A unique aspect of Mannina’s that sets it apart from other dining establishments, is its location in the Riverview Plaza corridor. Their patio space faces the inside of the corridor, and a few heat lamps make it a pretty cozy place during the brisk winter months. This allows for Mannina’s Winehouse to continue serving their customers in the safest manner they can.

Meldrum says she wants to continue work on different versions of carry-out crepes and charcuterie and to expand the gift shop for Christmas by adding new wines. Reinventing their methods of service to their customers has allowed Mannina’s to continue serving during this holiday season.

Port Huron Yoga now offers classes onlinePort Huron Yoga is another local business that has embraced change to combat hurdles. Located on Gratiot, the studio has been serving the community since 2017 with their daily yoga classes and retail store. Owners Janna Schultz and Jeni Vincent have cultivated a special community and environment with their studio; they have made it a place for individuals to feel safe and welcome, where there is always someone to say hello.

But, with recent safety protocols set into place due to COVID-19, the studio was forced to close to the public. This did not stop Schultz and Vincent, who were determined to continue providing and supporting their community.

Flexibility, not only in their yoga practice, but in their business, was needed to combat the hurdles brought on by COVID. “We went completely online,” says Schultz.

Providing free yoga classes was essential to continue fostering the community they have built. When they were able to open, Schultz and Vincent also offered outside classes during the summer months.

“Everything has been a lot slower, but we will just continue to ride that roller coaster of being open and back online,” says Schultz.

Currently, the studio is providing classes online, though their retail store is open. The owners participate in yearly events, like Small Business Saturday, however this year was slower. That is why Schultz and Vincent have worked together on an idea that will continue their connections with their community – resulting in their first ever Facebook live event to sell items from their retail store. The owners say that they felt the support from their viewers, and that in turn made for a successful live event. They are also introducing gift cards, so you can give the gift of yoga for the holiday season.

While navigating a tumultuous year, what has always and will forever be at the center of Port Huron Yoga is community and connection. Schultz and Vincent have been able to adapt when faced with the hurdles of this year in order to still provide.

“We noticed it’s good to have your hands in a bunch of different cookie jars. Being versatile is the best way to keep providing for the community,” says Schultz. “And we look at it as not a negative – just different. We put more of a positive spin on it in our eyes and that has made us more open to different ways to provide.”

As the year comes to an end, Schultz and Vincent hope they are able to stay open and stay a part of the community. They want to keep sharing information to the community and building relationships with the people of Port Huron. “As everything evolves with Covid, we hope to build from it and to continue growing and building.”

Scoreboard N More in AlgonacScoreboard N More is an embroidery store in Algonac that has also felt the weight of COVID-19, especially during the holiday season.

The store specializes in embroidery and the screen printing of apparel and considers itself a one-stop shop for all promotional needs. Since the shutdown of schools and cancelation of many school sports and community events, like parades, a large part of Scoreboard N More’s business has taken a blow.

“It’s been a different kind of holiday,” says Chris Campbell, co-owner of Scoreboard N More. Campbell and his business partner, Sandee Kuhfeldt, bought the store three years ago and have been serving the community ever since. To combat these issues, Campbell and Kuhfeldt have implemented new social distancing guidelines like capacity limitations and cleanings. They have also begun a new service at the store – curbside and delivery.

They offer specialty souvenirs from their gift shop as well as more blank apparel so customers have the ability to customize what they want during this holiday season. Curbside, delivery, and online shopping are all things that Scoreboard N more will be keeping well into the new year for customers to utilize so they can continue shopping in a safe manner.

There has also been a boost in community from other local businesses. Campbell and Kuhfeldt have been working alongside other business owners in Algonac to promote coupon and discount initiatives between businesses. A customer can get a coupon for another store while shopping at one of their favorite spots. This allows customers to not only get a great deal, but it supports shopping between local businesses. Campbell and Kuhfeldt hope to have a strong finish to this unique holiday season and for this new flourishing community between local retailers to continue into the new year and longer.
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