Merchants across Malheur County double down to save crucial holiday sales

Concerns about sales are challenging retailers in Malheur County to find ways to keep customers buying. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

If there’s one thing that local business owners agree on right now, it’s that a strong holiday season is crucial for their long-term financial health.

“It’s our bread and butter,” said Tracy Hammond of Vintage Rose in Ontario. “November and December make us able to survive January and February.”

With the drastic changes to their business operations brought by Covid, there is some uncertainty this year about how holiday shopping will go – and extra pressure for it to go well. But recent interviews showed that businesspeople are determined not to let these shifts make a dent in their holiday sales.

In terms of holiday strategy, Grant Grigg of Grant’s Shoes in Ontario said he planned to “just be open and be of service to the customers and be available to them.”

Sarah Rodriguez of Luzetta’s Flowers in Vale agreed, emphasizing “being able to be here whenever our customers want and [doing] whatever they need in any capacity – whether that’s meeting privately, doing curbside pickup, having private gatherings – whatever they would like us to do, we will do.”

Despite the two-week pause recently invoked by Gov. Kate Brown, during which businesses will be able to fill only to 75% capacity, every business representative interviewed planned to keep their doors open.

“We’re doing all our precautions of cleaning things and wiping things and Lysoling things and everything else,” said Rodriguez.

Daun Winslow of Dorsey Music in Ontario said that she hoped those sorts of precautions would keep customers coming in throughout the two-week freeze.

“We’ve already gotten used to making sure people don’t touch things without our permission, and sanitizing things,” she said.

Dorsey Music has actually seen an uptick in sales of guitars during Covid as people have searched for hobbies they can pursue at home. The upcoming holiday season is usually an important time for the store as local churches and choirs come in to shop for liturgical music. Winslow was optimistic that curbside pickup, layaway programs and a revamped website would insulate the music store from any potential downturn.

Hammond also highlighted the importance of the internet to keeping her business afloat.

“We do a Facebook Live sale Thursday nights and that’s probably the only thing thats kept us open,” she said. “It’s going to make or break us this year unless things pick up.”

Hammond said that Vintage Rose is also planning a series of online classes featuring video tutorials for their popular craft kits.

Local business operators praised their loyal customer bases which have kept them going this far.

“We have good support from the locals,” said Rodriguez. “We do appreciate our customers, and we try not to take anyone for granted.”

“What’s kept business going is my faithful customers,” said Hammond. “If it wasn’t for the wonderful people around here that have kept supporting us, I don’t know what we would do. Covid’s certainly brought a lot of bad out, but it’s brought some good things too.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at 541-235-1004 or [email protected].

GET YOUR LOCAL NEWS FROM REAL PROFESSIONALS: Reader support allows the Enterprise to provide in-depth, accurate reporting that otherwise would not get done. Keeping the community well informed is essential. SUBSCRIBE – $5 a month, automatically. DONATE – to provide additional support.