Sheryl Coughlan is worried about Magnolia Park this holiday season.
The owner of Antiques on Magnolia told the Leader in a phone interview that with coronavirus cases on the rise, some workers still unemployed and rollbacks of reopenings announced, local businesses will lose out on crucial income during a period when people are usually buying presents.
Black Friday, for example, is usually a good day for Coughlan’s business, as is Magnolia Park’s annual Holiday in the Park event, which would have been held Friday of this week were it not for the pandemic. In previous years, customers filed in for her art and jewelry sales, many of them hoping to find a Christmas present for a loved one.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “I know we’re doing fine, because we have side businesses … but there are some of those Magnolia merchants that weren’t able to get [federal Small Business Administration] loans that are barely hanging on.”
Not every local business places particular importance on Black Friday, however. Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of the California Retailers Association, said in a phone interview that especially this year, big-box stores are moving away from Black Friday — the traditional shopping extravaganza on the day after Thanksgiving — in favor of monthlong sales or online offerings.
However, Michelin added, smaller retailers that didn’t have an online platform before the pandemic could have trouble building it from scratch. She also explained that the CRA has been trying to encourage businesses to sell items online or, at the very least, offer curbside pickup.
“It’s about managing your business during this holiday season, being able to maximize your possibility while staying within the constraints of the guidelines [from] the state of California” on curbing the spread of COVID-19, Michelin said.
But for some boutiques, online sales aren’t a great option, either. Kathy Ross, president of the Magnolia Park Merchants Association and owner of Blast From the Past, observed that customers of the antique and collectible stores the neighborhood is known for tend to want to inspect items themselves. High shipping costs for some pieces also can drive away business, she noted.
“They enjoy coming in and seeing the toy that they had,” she said via phone. “It’s not the same as going to Target or to the grocery store. It’s a place to go where you have happy memories.”
Ross added that Black Friday isn’t a huge event for businesses in Magnolia Park — but the annual Holiday in the Park celebration is.
The local tradition involves a partial closure of Magnolia Boulevard, lavish decorations, food trucks, giveaways and actors dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus. Estimating that more than 30,000 people have attended the event in recent years, Ross explained that it also allows businesses to show off their wares during a time when customers are thinking about buying presents.
Since the event wasn’t held this year, Ross said the MPMA is looking into safe ways to drum up business for nearby businesses, such as through promoting stores’ specials on Small Business Saturday on Nov. 28. The organization is even considering a store decorating contest to add a festive touch to Magnolia Boulevard.
At the same time, Ross acknowledged that some stores have had to close for good because of the pandemic. Last year, she explained, businesses were doing well, riding a boom of economic activity through the holidays and into February. And then business owners saw how a pandemic “can just knock your feet from under you.”
“This is their dream, their livelihood, they put all of this into it,” Ross said. “Yeah, you’re still supporting yourself on that job, but this is more of a dream that dies.”
There is some positive news. While some stores in Magnolia Park have closed permanently, explained Ross, new ones have opened up.
But Coughlan said business owners know that their wallets aren’t the only ones hurting this year.
“The thing about an antique shop, it’s not something you have to have, it’s something you want,” she said. “My concern is that right now, there are things people have to have. They have to have food, they have to have water and power, they have to have toilet paper.”
“And to walk into a shop like mine or any of the shops on the block or to say, ‘Oh, I think I’ll buy that set of earrings’ or ‘My mom really loves this’ — they’re probably thinking, ‘God, I … would rather have Christmas dinner on the table.’ I think that it’s going to impact all the shops down there, unfortunately, but people have to do what they need to do.”
At the same time, Coughlan is worried about how a lack of holiday business will affect her neighbors in Magnolia Park. And though she emphasized that local business owners know that families’ needs come before luxuries, she implores anyone who is shopping for gifts to go to a local retailer.
“We could really use the help out here,” Coughlan said.