Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Lansing businesses navigate the holiday season after the pandemic

November 28, 2023
Gifts are sold at the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center on Sept. 27, 2023.
Gifts are sold at the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center on Sept. 27, 2023. —
Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

As the merry bells chime, small businesses across Lansing frantically tie the final ribbons for their busiest season of the year

Holiday season is one of the most impactful seasons for small businesses and with COVID-19 finally calming down, it’s more important than ever that these businesses receive heavy amounts of online support and foot traffic to keep doors open, Ayalla Ruvio, associate professor of marketing at the Broad College of Business, said

Ruvio emphasized that the holiday season, a pivotal time for small businesses, holds even more weight this year as COVID-19 takes a backseat.

Ruvio said in emerging from the pandemic, Lansing witnessed a significant shift from in-person to remote jobs, causing many businesses to lose out on foot-traffic. This loss along with other uncontrollable issues such as general inflation and rising prices of goods everywhere make small businesses increasingly inaccessible for the typical working-class family

“Despite COVID-19 no longer being a prominent issue, we are in the eye of the storm economically,” Ruvio said. “We have regional conflicts across the world, rising shipping costs, heavy inflation and heightened oil prices. Whether COVID-19 started these issues or not, it certainly has perpetuated them.” 

Ruvio states that convenience is key. What every family looks for is the option that is closest in proximity to a person and is most fiscally feasible.

When people worked downtown in-person, it was convenient to walk through the local shops during a lunch break, Ruvio said.

Now, she said prices have risen and day-to-day life has made shopping at these small businesses unachievable for families, which only makes it harder for businesses to keep doors open.

Michelle Carlson, executive director of the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center, describes this change as transformative for small businesses across Lansing

Forced to adapt and change in unpredicted ways, the gallery embraced an online presence and created a virtual storefront

Despite their efforts to tailor the store to meet customer needs, Carlson acknowledges the ongoing struggle to recover from the impact of COVID-19. Sales, both online and in-person, continue to dwindle, leaving the gallery grappling with financial difficulties and an inability to adequately support the featured artists.

This scenario appears to be a common narrative for many product-based businesses across the Greater Lansing area, according to Ruvio.

However, the story takes a different turn for food-based businesses. Nikki Thompson Frazier, the owner of Sweet Encounter Bakery, has a different story to tell.

With a heavy online presence during COVID-19, Sweet Encounter Bakery didn't open their shop in downtown Lansing until the end of the lockdowns.

Since then, the bakery constantly has people bustling in and out of the shop. With online orders and in-store purchases, there’s rarely a dull day, Frazier said.

Ruvio says that this might be the case for local restaurants. Instead of merely providing products, they provide an experience to their customers. The need for more staff creates more advertisement through their interactions, fostering more connections and interest in restaurants and bakeries.

“The issue is there is no fool-proof solution,” Ruvio said. “This situation is unlike any other economic issue we’ve faced because we’re unable to predict the longevity of this circumstance nor how to perfectly solve it.”

While there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, Ruvio says that acts of support for these businesses go a long way.

Ruvio said while purchasing products may stand out as the primary means of contribution, even the simple act of window shopping plays a vital role in spreading support for these businesses

Small, local businesses still have a journey ahead before returning to their pre-pandemic vitality. However, with continued community support during this holiday season, growth might be on the horizon, Carlson said

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