Shopping local? More merchants offer online convenience

Local merchants are taking a larger share of online purchases, thanks in part to a portal that went live last April, just three weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic.

RetailNewYork.com opened up to the state’s small independent retailers the online advantages that big-box retailers and others with deeper pockets had long enjoyed. While many independents already had a website, the portal established by the Retail Council of New York State provided additional exposure.

And it came just in time, as the pandemic forced shops to close their doors to the public.

“We shut down in-store sales on March 16,” recalled Schuyler Bull, who operates the Fort Orange General Store at 412 Broadway in downtown Albany. “We didn’t open until June.”

But online sales continued. Bull said the Retail Council site provided extra exposure.”We fared pretty well,” he said.

COVID-19 cases once again are surging to levels not seen since last spring, local merchants are looking to online sales as a way to keep commerce flowing. Some fear it may be just a matter of time before nonessential retail shops once again  close to halt the spread of COVID-19.

The online option has been attractive to consumers who may want to minimize their exposure to other customers.


Most merchants now promote curbside pickup, purchases paid for online before the customer collects the items.

And with Christmas approaching, many are offering conveniences such as direct shipping and gift wrapping.

At Market Block Books in downtown Troy, Stanley Hadsell says “we will ship and we will wrap.” But he adds, “Don’t wait to the last minute.”

The coronavirus has had an impact up and down the supply chain, from production plants forced to close because of the infection, to shipments of products produced overseas that have been delayed.

“Shop soon,” advised Cheryl Vinni, who owns Spoon & Whisk, a kitchenware store along Route 9 in Clifton Park. “We have our best selection now. We’ve had difficulty getting products, with factories being closed.”

And Hadsell says early shoppers are more likely to find their books in stock. He also expects shippers will see a last-minute rush that could lead to delays.

Market Block Books and its sister store, The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza, have, like other merchants, limited the number of people who can be in each store at one time, part of the social distancing rules they must follow. In Market Block’s case, it’s just 10 customers at a time. That’s another advantage online shopping provides: shop when you want.

But many of us still prefer to see items in person, and to browse.

Vinni of Spoon & Whisk opens at 8 in the morning, for senior citizens and others who might want to avoid crowds. And, like many other merchants, she offers to deliver online purchases curbside.

Market Block Books recently expanded its own hours and is now open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Paying by credit card online or over the phone has eliminated the risk of spreading the coronavirus through touching.

For Orange General Store, for example, currently doesn’t accept cash, although it will start accepting cash beginning Black Friday, Nov. 27.

As of this writing, it wasn’t clear whether retailers might face new shutdowns if COVID-19 continues to spread. But the online portal RetailNewYork.com has continued to expand, with dozens of independent businesses in categories ranging from antiques to woodworking listed.

It could be just the right way to get your holiday shopping completed.

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