The holiday season is traditionally a festive time in downtown Olympia, with decorated storefront windows and groups of shoppers making their merry way from place to place, stopping for a snack or meal along the way. In 2020, downtown is still festive, but of necessity, the shopping experience will be different this year. Businesses that normally host small gatherings and open houses are curtailing their celebrations and figuring out ways to serve their customer base while keeping everyone safe.
At Browsers Bookshop, that means limited occupancy and modified hours. Customers don’t seem to mind, according to owner Griffith. “During a recent sale we had a line outside the store almost the entire time,” she says, “but we’re finding that our customers are really patient and they appreciate the fact that we’re taking the health precautions so seriously. They want to support us.”
In normal years the bookshop has been open seven days a week for nine hours a day. This year it operates from Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is closed on Mondays. Griffiths encourages anyone who is considering a gift of books this season to shop during the week and get an early start. “There is a paper shortage,” she explains. “If there are certain books you want, we won’t have a problem getting them now but by December that will change. It’s best to get them now.”
Shopping mid-week rather than on the weekend also increases the chance that one of the booksellers will have time to share recommendations. For those who aren’t able to come downtown or prefer not to, Browsers has a newly released holiday catalog and a new website. “It’s very easy to use,” says Griffiths. “It’s easy to set up an account, see what we have in the store and buy books.”
Nearby at The Popinjay, holiday preparations are underway. The big shift in merchandise will happen over the next few weeks and the staff will decorate the store windows the night before Thanksgiving. The store recently held a modified version of its annual birthday celebration over a 10-day span. Customers picked coupons out of a tumbler and received up to 45% off on some items.
The pandemic has been a challenge, but things are looking up, says owner Janis Dean. “Month by month, our sales are getting better,” she says. “We’re not quite there yet but last month we got to 76% of where we were in October 2019. That was very encouraging.”
Dean credits her customers with making the transition easier. “They’ve been very well-behaved,” she says. “We bought a box of masks in case people come in without one, and we’ve had about four or five people that come out of the car, put their hand over their mouth and say, ‘I forgot mine.’ We just give them one. That part has been great.”
Usually, The Popinjay hosts an open house at this time of year but not in 2020. However, the store does plan to host some events that comply with state guidelines between now and the end of the year. “It’s hard to say exactly what because everything changes by the week, but we’ll do what we can,” says Dean.
At Drees of Olympia meanwhile, a holiday open house wrapped up on November 16. Customers enjoyed a 25% discount on the item or their choice and could explore the store through a Twelve Days of Christmas raffle. “It was like a scavenger hunt in the store,” explains Tina Drees. “We had 12 gifts with a box in front of each one. People got little entry cards and chose one of the 12 items. If they’re chosen during the drawing, they’ll win that item.”
The store’s decor has already switched into holiday mode, with European ornament and icicles dangling from carefully placed trees. One popular gift item: curated gourmet food boxes. “We have a great food section that makes wonderful items for office parties or hostess gifts,” says Drees. “If you call in an order, you can pick it up or we can ship it. We also offer a complimentary gift wrap on all purchases.”
Other popular shopping destinations in downtown Olympia include Compass Rose, Archibald Sisters, Hot Toddy, Captain Little, and Belleza Ropa. Learn more about how you can support local businesses this holiday season by visiting the Olympia Downtown Alliance website.