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Economy & Business
WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Small Milwaukee-Area Retailers Offer Online Buys, Social Distancing During COVID-19 Holiday Shopping

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Image from East Side and Downer Ave. Business Improvement Districts
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The East Side and Downer Avenue Business Improvement Districts have an online and in-person shopping promotion called "Scroll & Stroll."

It's unclear how many people will go shopping during Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and the rest of the post-Thanksgiving weekend — what with COVID-19 still surging in Wisconsin. But merchants are doing what they can to attract shoppers into stores or online.   

The pandemic has meant tough going for several types of businesses, including restaurants, entertainment venues, the hospitality industry and some retail establishments. Bill Smith is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which has nearly 10,000 members in Wisconsin.

Smith says his group's economists measure monthly what they call an optimism index. "How are small business owners feeling about the next six months, the next three months? I can tell you the latest economic trends report shows that optimism index down," he explains.

Smith says the reasons for the decline are economic uncertainty, and for some firms, a labor shortage — even as other companies have laid people off.

The uncertainty has not stopped some companies from trying to grow. Many retailers are trying new marketing efforts.

For example, Friday, Nov. 27 - Monday, Nov. 30, the East Side and Downer Avenue Business Improvement Districts are teaming up for a Scroll and Stroll event, offering a central landing page for online deals as well as specials for shoppers who want to pick up curbside or put on a mask and go into stores that practice physical distancing.

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Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
Kind Oasis, located 2169 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee, is one of the stores taking part in Scroll and Stroll.

Kellan Dore is marketing manager for Kind Oasis, on Farwell Ave., which sells natural wellness products like shampoo and skin care oils, as well as holiday gifts. Dore says some of those acknowledge COVID-19. "So, we have like holiday face masks, and natural hand sanitizer, as well as more fun gifts for everyone," she says.

Dore also says Kind Oasis remains confident about later next year, planning to make use of the store's  commercial kitchen and event space. 

In the meantime, Dore says personally, she'd support Congress passing another COVID-related stimulus package to help many people, including small businesses.  

Bill Smith of the independent business group calls more federal help, vital. "The sad reality is small business needs a certain level of revenue in order to keep functioning," he says.

Though firms are also hoping for more online and in-store customers the next few weeks.

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