Local Businesses Rely on Residents to Stay Afloat during PandemicOct 27, 2020 09:05AM ● By Judy Ogara
“The 4th quarter is the most important period of the year for any retailer,” says John Paltrineri, owner of Fiske’s General Store. “We have to do certain numbers to hold us over for January and February, the colder months.”
It’s not surprising, then, that as the holiday season approaches in the time of COVID-19, the focus of many intent on keeping Holliston businesses thriving is “Shop Local.”
Since it started its #HollistonTogether campaign a few months ago, Holliston Cable Access TV (HCAT) has produced infomercials for different categories of business, says John Drohan, on the HCAT Board of Directors. The effort was aimed at reminding residents during shutdown that businesses in town were still operating, if not with curbside service, remotely. And the effort is still underway, at a time there’d usually be a big Holliston holiday stroll.
“Donna Cady, of the Candy Cottage, myself, and Diane Marrazzo, of The Grapevine usually run that,” says Paltrineri. “We know we just can’t do it safely, so we thought we’d just cancel it this year.”
The #HollistonTogether effort to get Holliston residents to head down to local merchants instead of online or to box stores is important to Holliston businesses. Drohan has personally worked on two infomercials on local business, on merchants that sell gifts and those that sell food. “Donand Bruce (of HCAT) have done six already, and I think they have another four or five lined up,” he says. “They’re having great success, the people are psyched, very openly about talking about their business, all on the HCAT YouTube channel.”
Drohan thinks that awareness of #HollistonTogether is growing, with more residents understanding the concept. “Can I put a number on it? No, but it seems the message is getting across. It’s ongoing.”
Many businesses have had to adapt to rapidly changing times, and many have gotten creative in order to stay afloat.
At the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, for example, Fiske’s General Store, unable to open to the public, posted updated photos of its merchandise on Facebook. Patrons could look at the photos online, call in their order to pay, and swing by to knock on the door to quickly pick up their package. “We moved with whatever the general population was looking for,” says Paltrineri. “We found that puzzles were huge and paint and craft supplies were huge, anything to keep the kids busy, and then in the summer, we adapted by moving to backyard toys, and board games for game night.” Although his foot traffic now back to normal since the store reopened June 8th, Paltrineri says business took a big hit for 2 ½ months, and he’s trying to stay creative with a membership program offering a 30% discount program through December.
Travis Ahern, Holliston’s Town Administrator, says the Town has tried to step up to meet businesses’ needs in the pandemic. For example, the Board of Health has actively worked with some companies bringing employees back in to make sure they were following distancing protocols. The Town has also helped some sit-down restaurants work on their outdoor seating options.
“The Town is supporting any creative ideas. We’re working as partners, and the Board of Health is here to answer any questions,” says Ahearn, who says he is busy getting up to speed and has attended some meetings of the all-volunteer Economic Development Committee, which is looking at an outreach plan to drive traffic the downtown area as part of its November agenda. “My obvious first priority is making sure the Board of Health and all those things are being heeded,” says Ahearn.
Ahearn points out that interestingly enough, Pinecrest Golf Course did fairly well this year, and “Anthony’s on the Green has been doing a ton of takeout. I don’t think at the beginning I would have personally foreseen that. “Takeout has been a much bigger component with COVID-19, and although the town approved alcohol-to-go, “I don’t think we had a huge drive for that,” says Ahearn.
Although groups like the Holliston Community Farm have suffered, unable to hold key fundraising events, says Ahearn, he sees promise in the increased use of the Holliston Rail Trail, where, hopefully, people walking and biking will patronize businesses there.
“The bottom line is, check your local stores first,” says Paltrineri, who says he gets a call every day where customers say, “I wanted to check with you before I go somewhere else.”
“What they mean is Amazon or Wal-Mart or Target,” he says, “and I love that call, the courtesy of checking in. We’re part of the community, and they know we care.”
“The pandemic and the economic impact of the pandemic is affecting everyone, and in particular, it’s affecting small business, and it’s going to be here for a while,” says Drohan. “You can support local businesses, spend your money on local businesses and give them a chance. They’re part of the makeup of your community. Everyone in Holliston I know likes being in Holliston, and they know the business community is an important part of that.”