Stores around the state are wrapping up the holiday season and for many local, independent businesses, 2018 came bearing income a-plenty.
Rutland’s Vermont Truffles said they had a banner year, with much of their orders coming in the week before the actual holiday and maple reigning supreme as the most cherished chocolate.
“We made thousands of truffles,” said chocolatier Katie Woodruff. “In two to three weeks, we made 3,000 truffles at least.”
Woodruff said their chocolates are purchased for company parties and retail sales at Truly Unique and Olivia’s Market across town as well as individual sales made on the phone or online if not in person.
“We normally make 500 to 1,000 in one week,” Woodruff said. “That number at least tripled. It was ridiculously hectic the week before Christmas.”
Shoppers weren’t resigned to culinary delights, though; Michael Divoll of Michael’s Toys in Rutland said he saw an increase in sales for his homemade, hand-carved wooden gifts, a welcome surprise for the traditional toymaker.
“It’s been dismal the past two years,” Divoll said. “Seen a little uptick this season, but it’s nothing compared to the old days. In the past, I used to see $1,000 days. Now, some days bring $0.”
Divoll said online shopping created “winners” and “losers” in the retail game, with Walmart and other big box stores attracting most of the business as shoppers compare online prices to maker prices and opt for the cheaper route.
Both Divoll and his neighbor, Christine Zullo, owner of Christini N Me Antiques, agree that the noticeably sparser shopping crowds in downtown Rutland are largely due to the new street parking system that Zullo said she has to explain to locals.
“We lost a lot of business shortly after the new parking meters were installed,” Zullo said. “People don’t want to get a ticket for quick stops … it’s intimidating. Out-of-staters have no problem with it: They’re constantly coming in and complimenting the downtown, saying how gorgeous it is. It’s the locals: People in Vermont don’t change.”
Zullo said her small-item sales this year have been steady with her collections of primitive, rustic antiques gaining in popularity, and she’s looking forward to opening up the second level of her shop next year for estate sales.
On the fashion side, Rutland’s Fruition said they saw a steady Christmas, with many of their sales coming from employees on the search for the perfect frock for the company Christmas party, or the ever-popular hobo-style bags.
Fruition sales associate Kiera Nauton said she didn’t notice any slowness leading up to the holidays, and the store saw plenty of holiday traffic.
Farther north in Washington County, the holiday season proved strong for business this year as well.
“This was definitely our best ever in 15 years,” said Jaquelyn Rieke, founder of Nutty Steph’s confectionary in Middlesex, as the masses flocked to her shop’s “S’morestice,” a combination celebration of the favorite dessert and Winter Solstice. “I’d say it was double last year’s sales, which had been our biggest year.”
Of the 70 or so products that Rieke sells in her store, one of the big hits this year were her three-dollar CBD chocolate hearts which Rieke said are taking the state by storm.
“We’re the CBD darlings of the chocolate world,” Reike said.
Reike said the season begins in November for her sweets shop, and she sees surges in sales for a full two months before the current slows, and she’ll be bumping up production next year.
It was also a good season for Exile on Main Street in Barre, that area’s premier source for vinyl and turntables, which reported the music of the year was Queen on vinyl. The business saw a general 35 to 40-percent increase in sales this Christmas.
“I wasn’t sure what would transpire, but it was really good season,” said Sandy Thurston, owner of Exile on Main Street in Barre. “The oddity this year was that we sold very little of the billboard top 40. Years ago, that’s pretty much what you would sell.”
Thurston said the last few years have been really strong for the store sales-wise, and the return-to-vinyl trend has been treating them well.