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Anthony Commisso, of Tuxego, from a recent Chamber of Commerce announcement.
Mark Eagan, CEO of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, announced the “end of the pandemic” for some area businesses in early November of 2022.
ALBANY — We may be living in what some call a post-COVID world, with no more mask requirements outside of doctor’s offices and few, if any, vaccination requirements for the general public to attend their favorite local events and destinations.
But as the holiday shopping begins to heat up (it’s been in full-swing since the day after Halloween), local retailers say that a percentage of their customers still expect — and desire — pandemic-style accommodations that allow them to shop without ever having to enter the store.
That includes things like curbside pickup and a robust online shopping experience that might have been viewed as strange luxuries five years ago, but are more than likely to continue well after the pandemic fades into the background of daily life.
Can you even imagine back in 2018 asking a store to bring your items you already purchased online to your car in the parking lot? Would you ever believe you would buy a Christmas gift from a social media post from a local retailer you’ve never visited?
That’s the world we live in now, and consumers have come to expect such convenient, no-touch, stay-your-distance shopping, even if its a locally owned store they drive by every day. They just don’t want to go inside all the time — or perhaps ever, if they can avoid it.
Of course at places like the Fort Orange General Store on Broadway in Albany, shopping in the store is part of the whole experience, with curated home goods and gifts that feature local artisans and unique items only found in the region. Visiting the trending urban store is just as fun as looking for the perfect gift that can remind giftees of home, or show off local crafts.
“As a destination brick-and-mortar store, we aim to provide our customers with a unique in-store shopping experience,” said Schuyler Bull, owner of the store, which recently opened a second location on Western Avenue in Guilderland.
Bull, who is also vice president of marketing for Pioneer bank, has owned the Fort Orange General Store since 2017, well before the pandemic.
And while the in-store shopping experience is key to the store’s identity and appeal, Schuyler and his employees place a huge emphasis on a well-run and aesthetically pleasing online store, supported by stylish social media posts that celebrate upstate New York. One of the most recent Instagram posts features wool mittens with deer-skin palms.
“Though we have seen a decrease in online orders compared to the last two years, I believe it still remains a popular option for those sending gifts to friends and family who live out of the area or for those who are more comfortable shopping from home,” Bull said.
I Love Books, a gift and book store at Delmar’s Four Corners, has a unique system for online shopping. Owner Melissa Steen posts the store’s inventory online, and people can call or email the store to order and pay for items.
I Love Books is known for its large storefront windows where items are displayed depending on the season, so people often see an item they like and dart inside to buy it.
But now if they want to purchase something without going inside the store, where the wooden floors creek and the narrow aisles hide surprises around the corner, they have an option to purchase items online and grab them from the back of the store where public parking sports are located.
Items are left on a porch-like entrance at the back of the store that isn’t typically used by customers. Steen used the system a lot during COVID before stores were allowed to open to the public. And she still uses the system today, although not as much.
“Because I have a back entranceway, a customer can call, order items, pay for them and then just enter the back entrance and pick up their order without actually entering the shop,” Steen said. “I have had this service since before we could actually open the doors during COVID and though we don’t use it often anymore, it’s always available and people do still call and email for the service.”
Of course, some gifts — especially expensive personal luxury items like jewelry — are better sold inside a store where a customer can view the items.
In fact, while some mass-market retailers are expanding online shopping in the wake of the pandemic, Frank Adams Jewelers in Guilderland is building a new, 7,500-square-foot store on Wolf Road in Colonie that is double the size of its current store at Stuyvesant Plaza. The store is under construction and will have special spaces for personalized, fun and private shopping experiences.
“We find that as a luxury retailer, customers prefer to visit our store to shop in person because they find that the in-store experience has value,” said Billie Jo Newman, director of marketing and communications for the company. “We place a priority on delivering a tremendous in-store experience.”
However, Frank Adams does curbside pickup and it also values customers who wish to shop by email, text and phone.
“We have all of these channels fully active with (mostly) around the clock staffing so that the customer can still have a personalized luxury experience,” Newman said.
Despite the fact that consumers today expect to be able to shop online just as easily as inside a store, retailers and shopping mall owners are getting ready this holiday season for more of a return to normal.
Stuyvesant Plaza where Frank Adams and more than 50 other shops and restaurants lease space on Western Avenue, is turning most of its parking spots previously set aside for curbside pickup during the pandemic back to regular spots.
“We look forward to a robust holiday shopping season, and recently removed 75 percent of our short-term pickup parking spots in anticipation of more customers returning to shop for their holiday gifts in-store,” Stuyvesant Plaza general manager Rachel Ferluge said.
In another indication that things are returning to normal: Stuyvesant Plaza started its Holiday Stroll holiday marketing campaign that includes horse-drawn carriage rides, hot chocolate and visits with Santa Claus. The event happens every Sunday afternoon through Dec. 18.
And with consumers getting back into the holidays, now in person more than ever in the past three years, there will also be a return to holiday parties, some of which will require formal wear.
Anthony Commisso, owner of Tuxego, a formal wear shop at Peter Harris Plaza on Route 2 in Latham, said this year has been his best since the pandemic began as consumers have shaken off the doldrums after postponing weddings and other events like fund-raisers and big parties.
“We had a very big year,” said Commisso. who operates Tuxego.
Larry Rulison has been a reporter for the Albany Times Union since 2005. Larry’s reporting for the Times Union has won several awards for business and investigative journalism from the New York State Associated Press Association and the New York News Publishers Association. Contact him at 518-454-5504 or email@example.com.
This is a carousel. Use Next and Previous buttons to navigateAnthony Commisso, of Tuxego, from a recent Chamber of Commerce announcement.Mark Eagan, CEO of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, announced the “end of the pandemic” for some area businesses in early November of 2022.ALBANY — We may be living in what some call a […]
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