Rising inflation not seen in three decades, supply and workforce shortages and increasing online shopping have small downtown Orangeburg retailers wondering how the traditionally busiest shopping season of the year will play out.
"We can't get anything," Russell Street Fifth Avenue Manager Chris Amash said. "Everything is stuck in the ports."
Amash said supply issues are impacting all of the store's product and it has been an issue for months.
"It probably won't change even next year," he said. "It will be a huge problem. Whatever we sell, we can't replace. That is the major thing."
Amash also said the cost of goods has skyrocketed.
"Shipping went up, the prices of goods went up," Amash said. "It has been tough, man."
The holiday shopping season typically begins the day after Thanksgiving in what is traditionally called Black Friday in the United States. The name originated with the belief that it's the first day of the year that retailers turn a profit, going from the red to the black.
Black Friday sales typically draw a lot of shoppers.
Small Business Saturday is also an annual event created by American Express that encourages consumers to shop at small businesses. It takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which lands on Nov. 27 this year.
Despite the challenges, Amash says the store at 1161 Russell St. will be open for the holidays and will be adequately stocked.
Amash said the store specializes in menswear dress to casual attire. Items for sale include suits, hats, socks, shoes, ties, bowties, belts, dress shirts. Casual attire is also available.
"We have the biggest men's dress shoes section in town, shirt selection, suit selection and tie selection in town," Amash said.
Amash said the store is "geared up" for the holidays with staffing and is ready.
"We cut back because of COVID," he said. "It is just family now running it. I have to manage. It is not as busy as it used to be."
The business does have a Facebook presence with plans to develop an online presence in the near future as online shopping continues to be a challenge.
Calhoun Oil Company is preparing for a busy Christmas and New Year's season.
"Typically the two weeks around the holidays are our busiest times of the year, besides summer travel season," Calhoun Oil Company Inc. President Boyd McLeod III said. "We are still facing labor shortages but it has subsided since the August, September time."
Calhoun Oil oversees convenience stores in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Sumter counties. The company also operates two Bojangles restaurants -- one in Orangeburg and another in Santee.
McLeod said the company has raised starting pay, contributing to some improvements in hires and retention.
"We are currently short approximately 20 full-time employees," McLeod said. "Our biggest needs are truck drivers, and Bojangles management."
"Truck driver shortages will be the biggest challenge for the holiday season," McLeod said. "Our convenience stores will have some part-time employees home from school to fill in."
McLeod said another challenge is the proposed federal vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees and the impact it could have on employment.
The business has encouraged employees to speak with their doctors and see if they are candidates for the vaccines, and incentives have been provided to take the vaccine.
"If the mandate succeeds, we expect to see a portion of our employees quit," McLeod said. "I suspect we will have to close stores to consolidate employees. It's really sad because we will be competing against smaller operations that do not have to enforce the mandate."
McLeod said Calhoun Oil is "caught in the middle, trying to compete against large national chains and small single-store operators that do not have to follow the same rules."
"Our supply chain and small businesses have been destroyed by failed government policies," McLeod said. "S.C. is lucky that our state leadership has worked hard to keep us moving forward."
Workforce shortages have improved somewhat since summer.
Job opportunities still do exist.
Through the middle of November, Orangeburg County had about 2,500 job openings, according to South Carolina Works Online Services.
Calhoun County had 140 job openings and Bamberg County had about 238, according to the SCWOS website.
Russell Street New Evergreen co-owner Joyce Williams says the store will be open for the holiday season Tuesday through Saturday.
"We cater more to church wear, formals," Williams said. "We have stuff for the holidays if someone needs a gown or a nice outfit. We have jewelry and shoes and we have a lot of hats for our church ladies."
Williams said the store at 1173 Russell St. has scarves, shawls and bags.
"We are unique and different and we don't have big quantities of everything," Williams said, noting that woman can stand out with their outfits because of the unique selection. "We have a lot of stuff to offer but we limit to one of each size and color."
Williams said workforce challenges have not been an issue due to it being relatively slow at the store.
"For groups and for weddings, we can't guarantee when we can get it and the sizes and all because of what is going on" Williams said. "I am kind of losing that end of the deal with special orders and the time frame of what is available."
Williams said, "We will call and check and see to see if we can get stuff but every time we do, they don't know whatever is in stock is what they will have to go with."
Palmetto Office Supply owners Karen Hutto and Debbie Wiles are also dealing with supply issues.
"We are still waiting on some things," Wiles said.
Hutto noted among items facing supply shortages or delays are Christmas cards and boxes for Christmas cards.
"It is taking longer than normal," Hutto said.
Wiles says the store still has not received its dated goods like calendars and appointment books. Other supplies such as ink cartridges have been slow in coming.
Hutto and Wiles said the store is well staffed to handle the holiday crowds.
"We are doing what we can do," Wiles said. "It is just us."
The store has a number of items for Christmas, including children's items, puzzles, books, educational material as well as Carolina and Clemson items and party goods.
The store also has chairs and office furniture.
Wiles said Palmetto Office Supply provides top-notch customer service.
"You don't have to stand in line and you get personal service," Hutto said, noting the store specifically is cognizant of elderly customers who may struggle with mobility. "We actually walk to the shelves and get things for people."
Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce President James McQuilla said the chamber's role this holiday season has been to showcase seasonal promotions from member businesses across its media platforms.
"We are also assisting local decorators and other artisans network with citizens and businesses in need of their talent," McQuilla said.
McQuilla said the challenges are real.
"Workforce shortages, as well as supply-chain disruptions, are definitely being felt in Orangeburg," McQuilla said. "Grocery stores, retail stores, clothing stores and other merchants are doing their best to serve the local clientele. In order to do that, however, I have personally seen both family members and young teens hired to work in more labor-intensive environments."
McQuilla said shopping locally is the key to survival for existing business owners and attracting future businesses.
"Would you choose a place where many (or most) of the potential clientele chose to shop out of town or on line?" McQuilla said. "We have to remember that we’re all in the same boat."
"Shopping locally benefits the entire community, not just the store owner," he said. "We need as much tax money to stay here for municipal services as possible. We also need to show that businesses can do well in Orangeburg, and shopping locally is how we can all participate in building a better, more vibrant community."
Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association is having a Downtown Christmas Open House and Market on Saturday, Dec 4.
The event starts at 11 a.m. Businesses will be offering special discounts on select items along with surprise treats for children.
Executive Director Candice Roberson said downtown Orangeburg offers a variety of gift opportunities for all walks of life.
"In downtown, you can find anything from your spices for holiday meals to the perfect stocking stuffers, and even that special gift for the hunter in your family," Roberson said.
"One of our newest businesses -- Unique Gatherings -- has everything from holiday decor to balloons to make that holiday party a success," Roberson said. "Star Beauty is a hidden gem in downtown offering a wide selection of hair bows, nail polish and makeup perfect for your stocking stuffers."
And of course there is Woody's Pawn and Jewelry that is a "one-stop shop for all things hunting. From ducks to deer, they have what you need," Roberson said.
Need food fuel to keep on shopping? There is Rosalia’s, Tulios and Dairy-O to help keep the stomach smiling.
Theresa Bagasra, co-owner of Orangeburg's Tea Thyme at 1122 Church St., says the store is a great place to shop for Christmas gifts.
It has a variety of teas, spices, teapots and different tea mugs.
The store also provides a number of gift sets and custom baskets. It has Sallies's Greatest Jams and monastery foods made by the Trappist Monks to include jams, jellies, hot sauces and honeys. Local honey is also carried.
Bagasra said the store has unique tea pots and over 55 kinds of teas and 100 different spices that cannot be purchased in a regular store.
"You can do a gift basket of spices, a gift basket of teas," Bagasra said.
The store is open Monday through during the holidays and may be open on Saturdays as the season progresses.
The store is closed on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.
Like others, Bagasra says supply disruptions have been an issue.
"I got a back order in today and put some teaware out that had been ordered a couple of month ago and we finally got it," Bagasra said. "Our biggest supply issue is with our food supply."
Paper supplies have been a big issue with our containers we package in," she said, noting she has had to go to Charleston to get dessert containers.
In an effort to provide convenience, the store does have a limited e-commerce presence at www.teathymeoforangeburg.com.
Andrae and Company Jewelers at 1135 Russell St. is open for full days on Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
"We probably have more knowledge than anybody of the product," Brett Andrae said when asked why individuals should shop at Andrae's for the holiday season. "We are probably one of the oldest jewelry stores in the country now. We don't run sales. We already put a sale price on everything to start with all the time."
Andrae said online the store also has discounted prices. The online store is located at www.andraejewelers.com
"It is convenient to pull up to the front door and you can probably get anything you want," Andrae said.
Andrae said he has enough staffing to handle the holiday rush.
"I can do it by myself," he said. "It is not uncommon for me to wait on five or six people at a time."
Supply-chain issues are also a problem but Andrae says Christmas shoppers will not need to worry.
"There is enough out there," Andrae said. "We have tons of inventory. I have more inventory that I could ever sell."
He said there are disruptions with standard items such as a repair product.
"We already knew this was going to be a problem starting a year ago," Andrae said. "We deliberately have been building up our inventory to serve customers during the drought. Our business is good."