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Demand is up for small retailers, but supply is another story

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A small-business owner works in her South Carolina retail shop in April 2020. Many small retailers have dealt with their share of pandemic-related supply chain issues. Sean Rayford via Getty Images

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Delta variant fears weren’t enough to keep consumers from shopping in August, according to the latest sales figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. But while demand remained strong last month, retailers themselves are dealing with a variety of supply chain issues.

Throughout the last year, Marketplace has followed several small business retailers as they navigate the pandemic. To get a sense of what’s happening this fall, we called up several to see how business is going.

Annie Lang Hartman, owner of Compass Paper Co. in Leland, Michgian

Business this year has been absolutely wild. Our physical retail space is, as of right now, up 193% compared to last year. We have been lucky that we haven’t had to change any of our pricing. I think we had one item that we sell go up by a few cents. The product that I have been thinking about the most was a product that really surprised me. We added insulated camp mugs last Christmas as a gift item, and we’ve just been blowing through them so fast. I feel like we reorder inventory for them every two weeks, so I’m really starting to look at if we can find another manufacturer that does better pricing now that we know that we have to do that product on a larger scale.

Irene Kesselman, owner of Ali Cat Toys in Carrboro, North Carolina

Business definitely picked up over the last few months, and that’s a great thing. We have received and still continue to receive weekly price increases from many, many, many of [the companies that supply us]. And then that forces us to decide if, in fact, we want to raise our prices or keep it the same. The holidays are here, though. We set up our paper so that our customers are aware of the fact that we would be happy to wrap for them. And we have received a lot of our merchandise and a lot of our seasonal merchandise probably a month earlier than I typically would, again, to avoid price increases and to make sure that we get the product.

Gary Merriman, owner of The Fish Hawk in Atlanta, Georgia

Business has been good. We have seen a bit of a slowdown with school starting and football starting. We’re starting to change some prices now, mainly because we’re seeing products cost more — and in some cases 15% to 20% more, which is pretty substantial. I think the holidays will be fine. I mean, people are still shopping and still spending money. They’re just having to settle for maybe not exactly what they want. Certain brands have reels, rods and even clothing that if I don’t have in stock and they want me to order it for them, it might be months before I can get it in.

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