Hudson retailers aren’t holding their breath for a sudden boom in shopping, even as holiday season begins

Holiday shopping during a recession can be daunting for consumers and business owners. Add the fear of leaving home due to an invisible virus, and things get more complicated.

After nine months of adapting and fighting to survive, Hudson County retailers say December will simply mean continuing to rely on pandemic-era customer accommodations and putting in more effort for less of a return. Plus, they’ll hope, as they do every year, that their neighbors will choose to shop local, they said.

“Even though we’ve had a rough year with all of this that is going on, there’s always people that look forward to Christmas,” said Raul Ruiz, owner of On The Ave, a clothing store in the Jersey City Heights. “December has been a good money-maker, but I wouldn’t say this year. We’ll hold on tight and we’ll see what happens.”

Customer service has always been Anne Bonner’s pride at Hoboken’s Peper & Parlor, a clothing store she opened 25 years ago. She offers gift boxes year-round with products customized to a client’s needs, all presented in a hand-painted box. And she’s always offered local delivery.

But this year has really been her time to shine, she said. Clients who never knew she offered home delivery have been purchasing that way. She’s offered shopping appointments and Facetime browsing.

And while she’s gained new customers through foot traffic who might typically spend most of their time in New York City, it’s her longtime customers who are really helping her survive the year, Bonner said.

“The reason we are going to somehow scrape through this year, it’s really about the loyalty,” she said. “People are making the decision this year to buy something locally.”

Loyalty isn’t enough for every business, though. Michael Chen, who owns Bayonne’s Manifest Comics, said he’s noticed the impact of the economic recession on many customers’ wallets.

Those who regularly shop at his store started coming when it reopened in the summer, and then they dropped off when government benefits did, he said.

Perhaps he’ll see new faces as the holidays approach, but as a father he also understands how many people avoid leaving their homes altogether as a safety precaution, he said.

“Any gains we have for people who want to shop local are probably going to be offset by people who are worried about the current surge,” Chen said.

One thing many local business owners agree on is that social media has become a key part of doing business. It’s a way to maintain a dialogue with customers even if they are mostly staying home.

“Social media’s free,” Ruiz of On The Ave said. “Everybody’s scrolling through their news feed every second.”

People are certainly still shopping, said Joy W. of Jersey City, who owns the digital store Be The Difference Clothing. Making sales is a matter of competing with Internet retail giants and having a prominent web presence is one way to do that, she said.

“I personally have not been to a mall since March,” she said.

But for brick and mortar stores, foot traffic has remained a key part of their revenue.

That’s why Ruiz is working on getting Santa Claus back to his store this year to hand out presents to kids next month.

“Hopefully we get over this rough year and 2021 becomes a better year for everyone,” he said.

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