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So how good were the holidays for retailers?

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A shopper with a handbag walks past a sign referring to Black Friday.

Despite a spike in coronavirus cases, retail sales were strong during the holiday season. Leon Neal via Getty Images

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It looks like consumers were willing to spend during the 2021 holiday retail season.

According to Mastercard’s SpendingPulse report, holiday retail sales were up 8.5% over 2020. But with continuing supply chain woes and surging coronavirus infection rates due to the highly contagious omicron variant, what were things like for retailers firsthand?

Several retailers we’ve been following throughout the pandemic sent us dispatches about how the holidays went for their businesses. The following are edited transcripts of their reports.

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

“This year, the holidays for us were terrific despite all the challenges we had during the course of the year. This was our best year ever. A lot of people had shopped early, but we did have a great deal of traffic the week before Christmas. Inventory was, to say the least, a challenge this year. We were still receiving goods on Christmas Eve. My staff would be concentrating on customer service and gift wrapping, and they were also unpacking boxes and checking things in, in between. Right now, we are in the process of doing inventory. And right after that, we will be meeting with reps and buying for Easter — yes, Easter. We are already there, believe it or not. I’ve already placed probably a dozen spring orders, so we will start getting ready for Easter within the month.”

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

The interior of Compass Paper Co.’s seasonal brick-and-mortar store in Leland, Michigan. (Photo courtesy Annie Lang Hartman)

“We didn’t go in with, you know, crazy goals. We just wanted to meet what we did for the 2020 holiday season, and we were up 60% compared to the year before. The biggest challenge wasn’t inventory. We definitely ran out of things, but we had a very hard time sourcing packaging supplies, so that became an issue. We’re working on turning over our entire inventory leading up to a big relaunch before our physical store opens in May, so we were fine letting things run out. As far as what is next for us, it is kind of our slow season, except for Valentine’s Day. You’ve just got to adapt, and that’s what we’re planning on doing for this year.”

Gary Merriman, owner of The Fish Hawk in Atlanta

“Our holidays went well. The inventories were only fair, the items are still not available. Overseas products are tough [to get], and even U.S.-made goods have their challenges with materials and workers. As far as in-store shopping, it was excellent up until about the last three days, which I blame on the COVID-19 scare. And we addressed the health concerns by going back to masks over the holidays because of the number of people [in the store]. I imagine that’s the way it will be for a while. What’s next for me is I plan on semiretiring in April and spending a lot more time on the water. It really will be semiretirement for a while. I enjoy coming to work. This is where all my friends are, so I’ll be around quite a bit.”

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