WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - With COVID-19 cases surging across much of Kansas and the U.S., the holiday shopping season has a different feel this year with more consumers expected to shop online to avoid the crowds. On Monday (Nov. 23), Eyewitness News spoke with small businesses in Wichita about how they’re adapting to changes in place to keep employees and customers healthy.

This past weekend was a good one from a sales standpoint for The Spice Merchant and Co. in Wichita where the holiday season is an especially busy time of year. For the last two weeks, the store was closed because of COVID-19. When it reopened Friday, Spice Merchant Founder/Co-owner Robert Boewe said customers were eager to get through the doors. Normally, that’s something any business would like to see. With COVID-19, it means taking more precautions.

“We were overwhelmed with customers and of course we have the holiday coming up. Same thing Saturday. Two of our very best sales days and everybody was patient,” said Boewe.

November and December account for about 30 percent of the year’s sales at The Spice Merchant.

“We’re just not big enough to let the normal prior to COVID type of situation where we would be shoulder to shoulder sometimes. We just work the best we can and keep everybody happy, keep it moving. Remind people to keep their distance, wear their masks,” Boewe said.

He said the business wants to keep the in-person shopping experience a safe one because that’s where they thrive.

“My employees are important to us and we want to stay healthy and (we want) our customers to stay healthy,” Boewe said.

That has The Spice Merchant limiting the number of customers in the store at one time, distancing customers out and requiring customers to wear masks.

Watermark Books and Cafe is another local small business continuing to make changes this holiday season.

“We’re trying to do more of it online. we can also do Zoom meetings for people if they want to (do) personal shopping,” Watermark Books and Cafe Owner Sarah Bagby said.

They’re also helping customers over the phone or by appointment as well. It’s to help so there are not as many customers in the store at one time.

Bagby said one thing her business is seeing this year is people spreading out their shopping over more days.

“The holiday shopping started pretty early. Like Saturday and last week, we were busy,” she said.

There’s an extra focus this year to have holiday spending spent locally.

“The National American Book Sellers Association did a big ad campaign, called the “boxed out” campaign where we named Amazon as somewhere not to shop for books.” Bagby said, “We know we will never stop people from shopping on Amazon. It’s here, it’s what it is. But we want people to just think about it before they shop on Amazon. We have a robust website.”

To accommodate more customers, The Spice Merchant and Watermark will be extended to being open on Sundays through Christmas.

The business’ main request is for customers to be patient. Watermark reports the book part of the store has been doing well, benefitting from new books hitting shelves after publishers held off releasing new materials in the spring. The cafe is where they’re seeing the biggest impact which is open for takeout and a reduced menu. As such, it reported that sales in the cafe are down 70 percent.

“You don’t want to lose the small businesses. The holiday season is going to be telling about how people are going to survive the coming year,” Bagby said. “We have fewer staff. We have our online business is more labor-intensive, so we’re just working as hard as we can to tell as much as we can to make the experience feel like it’s personal and to just connect with people in new ways.”

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