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Local stores are seeing sales increases despite ongoing pandemic and supply chain issues

world of mirth
Shoppers, like these at Carytown's World of Mirth, have been keeping local retailers busy this holiday season. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Neither the continuing global pandemic nor new variants have stopped people from shopping in person this holiday season. According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 180 million people made in-store and online purchases over Thanksgiving. Many local businesses are also seeing an upswing in customers — but pandemic-related issues are stifling some sales.

At 10,000 Villages in Carytown, store manager Aisha Eqbal is giving a tour.

“This is our little Christmas corner,” Eqbal says.

The non-profit, fair-trade store, which has been in Carytown for over 25 years, is filled with handcrafted items: two-foot high baskets, throw pillows woven out of brightly colored saris, singing bowls and tiny ornaments like a Yeti and its family made by females in Nepal all line the shelves.

“Our goal really is to make sure that we pay all of our artisans a fair wage,” Eqbal says. “It's really difficult in developing countries for them to earn a fair wage. The money goes to helping them earn a fair wage, to their community to build schools and hospitals in their village.”

Her items, which she either gets from the main 10,000 Villages headquarters in Pennsylvania or from her own buying, come from all over the world, including from developing countries like Bangladesh, El Salvador and Pakistan. Eqbal says there are about 50 stores nationwide.

“On top of that, [we] make sure that there's no child labor, that they have good working conditions, that women get paid a fair wage,” says Eqbal. “Most of our items, I would say about 80%, are made by female artisans.”

She says her store has been insanely busy – especially so in Christmas corner.

“I ordered like 10% more than 2019 and I ran out twice already,” Eqbal says.

Eqbal says she’s struggled with the ongoing supply chain issues. Many of the artisans they rely on aren’t able to ship items. 

“It’s been hard because a lot of our regular artisan groups, like the stuff we get from 10,000 Villages, the artisans aren't able to produce, or they can't get the tools,” Eqbal says. 

But she says she’s been able to adapt.

“It's made me reach out to maybe other artisan groups and other countries, even other places that I never thought of ordering from,” Eqbal says. “So now I'm just trying different stuff and it's working for our sales.” 

Eqbal says she’s having a harder time finding boxes and gift tissues for her store.

Just up Cary at the toy store World of Mirth, owner Thea Brown also says holiday sales are high. The store carries a mix of eclectic toys for everyone.

“We are a toy store kind of like no other. We run from infant to grown-up, which makes it kind of a creative and interesting mix,” Brown says. “We don't do a lot of licensing or quote-unquote trendy toys. We tend to find things that are going to have sneaky educational benefits or just kind of make you laugh and have a good time. Some of the things are a little tongue-in-cheek.”

Some of those “tongue-in-cheek” items include things like a holiday bingo set, where “you cross out things like when you hear juicy gossip or when your mom’s gonna lose it.” One of the best selling items is an adult puzzle. 

“We just got a puzzle that we've sold out of twice,” says Brown. “It is teeny tiny penises dressed up [in] little costumes. And it looks like a pattern from a distance. But when you get to see it up close, you see what it is. And people really seem to respond to that one.”

But Brown wasn’t able to get some of the toys she usually carries because of the pandemic and supply chain issues.

“Early summer, we had some of our reps saying, ‘Hey, you might want to try to get some things in a little earlier. We're not sure what's going to happen after October,’” Brown says.

This prompted her to order items much earlier than normal. 

“Things can be really difficult, especially right now because a lot of it comes through [the] California port,” says Brown. “These are things that I've ordered months and months in advance that are kind of getting here now.”

She says it’s hard even getting toys from companies with distribution centers based in the United States. Brown says her second largest vendor – one which makes retro-inspired toys like windup chattering teeth, lava lamps and classic metal robots – stopped taking orders in October and isn’t expected to return until January. 

The ongoing pandemic has been hard on both 10,000 Villages and World of Mirth. Egbal and Brown had to temporarily shut down during the early days of the pandemic, and both received federal loans to stay afloat.

But one lingering issue is still troubling Brown.

“One thing that is really on my mind right now is the amount of people coming out without masks,” Brown says. “Last month, I spent close to $1,800 on disposable masks for people who did not have them. So that's kind of a big burden to small businesses.”

 She says that money could’ve been put to better use.

“I think maybe just the way that people are kind of expecting small businesses to kind of just act like everything's back to normal right now is another dream,” she says.

She says if anyone tests positive at Mirth, they’ll have to temporarily close their doors, which they’ve done once before.

“It was a Friday afternoon and I decided to close the store after talking to the Virginia Department of Health for that entire weekend so everybody could get tested,” she says.

Brown says she’s had family members die from COVID-19 and doesn’t take the pandemic lightly. 

She says she misses the days when her store had multiple play stations scattered around the store – like train sets or air hockey tables – and hopes one day, she’ll hear kids screaming with laughter again as they test out the equipment.

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.