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Havre de Grace businesses optimistic as they prepare for Small Business Saturday amid logistical tumult

Under the best of circumstances, running a small business is difficult. As the U.S. enters its second year fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and as it faces dramatic disruptions in the global supply chain, proprietors are approaching a holiday season unlike any other.

With the backdrop, Small Business Saturday, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, is a big deal in Havre de Grace.

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The town prides itself on its many eclectic small businesses, some of which have been around for decades. Many of this town’s establishments carry goods that are primarily, if not exclusively, sourced from within the United States. Even so, proprietors are feeling the effects of shipping delays.

Don Starr co-owns Glyph, a design and marketing company with a storefront offering writing materials and paper goods. The store, which he has dubbed “the biggest little store in Havre de Grace” currently occupies a narrow space on Washington Street that once housed McLhinney’s Newsstand. This amalgamation of the storefront opened almost a year ago to the day.

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Stirefront of Glyph in Havre de Grace
Stirefront of Glyph in Havre de Grace (Callan Tansill-Suddath)

Glyph is a passion project of Starr and co-owner Joseph Smith, who is a former Havre de Grace city councilman. The goal of the business is to be self-sustaining. Issues with the supply chain have impacted its stock, and made keeping customer favorites around more difficult.

Starr points to a particular brand of tea as an example. Loyal customers flock to the shop to purchase a tea that is manufactured by a small business in the Pacific Northwest. But hostile weather conditions have delayed shipping.

The effects also have caused the shop owners to condense their stock, which is not all bad, Starr told The Aegis. “What we do sell is very curated. You can’t just have all little tchotchkes.”

Starr notes he has seen an increase in foot traffic in recent months; something he and other area business owners are looking to capitalize on for Small Business Saturday. Glyph, for example, will be offering mystery bags of cards at a reduced price on Saturday.

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Up the street, Joseph’s Department Store is also offering special discounts for in-store shoppers on Saturday — a tactic it has used in the past with great success.

“We’ve seen an increase of $1,800 to $2,000 each year on Small Business Saturday,” Alex Gordon, a manager at Joseph’s, told The Aegis.

In its 84th year, the store is the second oldest in town. Gordon says Small Business Saturday is undoubtedly the busiest day of the year, and they’ve had to be strategic in their approach to preparing for this year’s event.

“We have definitely been affected by supply chain issues,” Gordon told The Aegis. But he said the staff has taken concrete steps to avoid the worst of the impacts, including sourcing products, including clothing, toys, and Maryland-themed décor of all sorts from more local vendors.

Not every business can so readily change its stock. Restaurants, for instance, have unique challenges.

Stephanie Golumbeck is the president of MacGregor’s Restaurant, a Havre de Grace institution. The restaurant is open 365 days a year, so Golumbeck is more focused on Thanksgiving than the coming weekend.

MacGregor's restaurant in Havre de Grace.
MacGregor's restaurant in Havre de Grace. (Callan Tansill-Suddath)

Golumbeck says her most pressing concern is taking care of her staff. While she recognizes many other area restaurants are struggling with staffing shortages, she told The Aegis that is not an issue for her. But she feels a duty to the staff she does have.

“I just want to make sure that everyone has a nice Christmas and is able to, you know, take care of their families … I don’t want anyone to have to worry. Yeah, just let me worry.”

The prices of many restaurant essentials have gone up, though.

“You can only get certain items from certain suppliers. So you’re not able to do any price checks,” Golumbeck said, noting the price she is paying for alcohol has skyrocketed.

The staff at MacGregor’s has been forced to get creative with their stock. They have to alter the menu to make the most of what they have on hand.

“Because you have to remember your customers expect a certain standard of food quality and also quantity. So it’s like, if you keep your prices the same then you’ve lessened your quantity, that’s not a solution,” Golumbeck said.

A sign promoting "Shop Local" is seen on Washington Street in Havre de Grace.
A sign promoting "Shop Local" is seen on Washington Street in Havre de Grace. (Callan Tansill-Suddath)

But she remains optimistic. Golumbeck likens restaurants to chameleons, they change based on outside circumstances. “We just figure it out and we’re going to figure this one out, too.”

Gordon, too, is optimistic. He has noticed more and more people coming into Joseph’s recently; he estimates an increase of 20 to 25% in foot traffic over the past six months. A great deal of this he attributes to people’s shifting perspectives during and after COVID-19 lockdown. He said it became more clear to the public what the future holds for businesses that do not make enough profit.

For this reason, Gordon expects a successful event this Saturday, “We all come together for one common goal: seeing the city thrive.”

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