Bottom line: Christmas pop-up stores may be a gift to the retail scene this holiday

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 11/28/2020 9:42:00 PM
Modified: 11/28/2020 9:41:48 PM

The retail industry, crushed by the rise of online shopping, was already in extremis before COVID-19 hit. Since then, the pandemic forced countless more storefronts to close and, even when a vaccine will mean face masks are no longer required to go out in public, few expect brick-and-mortar stores of yore to return to pre-pandemic levels.

But local stores are not entirely dead yet. Several shops opening around the Upper Valley this holiday season preview a growing model for traditional retailing: the pop-up store.

Pop-up stores are hardly a new idea. They trace their roots back to the Christmas markets of medieval Vienna, although in recent years they have enjoyed a renaissance in cities and small towns alike. Bethel once turned over its Main Street to a string of a dozen pop-up stores for a weekend.

Upper Valley holiday shoppers, of course, are long familiar with the Lebanon Art & Crafts Association’s annual Christmas show and sale, which opened earlier this month in the former Sears space in Upper Valley Plaza in West Lebanon. The pop-up store this year is offering the work of two dozen different craftspeople and artists, fewer than in prior years but still an eclectic selection of handmade gifts that offer a refreshing alternative to the usual chain retailer merchandise.

In the adjacent shopping plaza in the former Pier 1 space, Lebanon residents Sarah and Jesse Webber have opened Everything Christmas, a pop-up that sells Christmas decorations and holiday merchandise. Everything Christmas — like the Spirit Halloween store that has appeared each fall for the past two years in Upper Valley Plaza — is a franchise business.

Jesse Webber, a paramedic at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, said with no similar store devoted to Christmas-themed merchandise in the heart of the Upper Valley, he saw a seasonal business opportunity. Moreover, the holiday is a favorite of his wife’s, who has experience in retailing as the former manager of the Verizon retailer in West Lebanon and is managing the Christmas store.

Indeed, the pandemic does not appear to have dampened shoppers’ holiday spirit: Christmas-shape cookie cutters were sold out within days of opening, Webber said, forcing the couple to call in another shipment from the supplier.

“The franchiser was pretty amazed. He said he thought we broke a record,” he said. “People really get into Christmas in a way they don’t with Easter.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of Interstate 89 in Powerhouse Plaza, Meriden metal crafter Ryan Lonergan of Third Shift Fabrication has opened a pop-up Holiday Artisan Market featuring the works of seven New Hampshire craftspeople and artists in the space that was formerly occupied by the Board & Basket kitchen supply store, which closed earlier this year.

Lonergan, who two years ago opened a pop-up crafts store for the holidays at the other end of Route 12A in North Country Plaza, said this time “if all goes well and we get enough vendors, we’ll look at opening a year-round store.”

Lonergan said the recent closing of the League of N.H. Craftsmen store in Hanover has created an opening for helping local craftspeople and artists to sell their work.

“A lot of us are really struggling this year because all the shows shut down due to COVID,” said Lonergan, who himself attended some 30 crafts shows annually before the pandemic. “So this outlet is a way to support people who haven’t had places where they can sell their work.”

Lonergan said the model for his West Lebanon artisans store are the two Locally Handmade stores located at shopping malls in Newington and Salem, N.H., that sell the work of more than 90 Granite State crafters and artists. The operator of the store charges a fee for vendor space and receives a percentage of vendors’ sales.

“The model has worked very well at those two stores, and I’d like to bring the model to the Upper Valley. Crafts is a huge business,” he said.

Down to the TV wire

TV viewers in Claremont, Grantham and some other Valley communities who rely upon WMUR-TV in Manchester and WCVB-TV in Boston for local and regional news were as irate as Pats fans after losing a Super Bowl when they received word recently that Comcast would no longer carry the two ABC affiliates on some Comcast cable systems in New Hampshire.

The cable TV giant — which harbors the same ill will from the public that many (well, me anyway) feel toward Pats fans — recently informed some subscribers that, effective Dec. 22, it would be dropping the stations. The Upper Valley (VT/NH) Facebook page instantly lit up with fiery comments about the loss of local news, especially during the pandemic when viewers rely on the newscasts for word on the state’s health measures.

At issue is a familiar one between cable system operators and local TV stations: The broadcaster charges fees to the cable company for retransmitting the station’s signal on the cable system, and when those contracts come up for renewal each side begins a game of chicken to see which one will blink first during negotiations.

Specifically, Comcast says the stations, both owned by Hearst — they are two among 38 retransmission contracts coming up for renewal around the country for the cable giant — are “out of market,” meaning that they are not the only ABC affiliates available in the Valley and viewers can always watch WMUR-TV or WCVB-TV news online.

A Comcast spokeswoman said last week that negotiations are now underway with Hearst over a new retransmission contract, which wasn’t the case when Comcast initially notified subscribers about dropping the stations. It is a rare instance when cable operators and broadcasters do not, eventually, strike a carriage deal.

But then, this still being 2020, I’m not making any predictions ... stay tuned, as they say.

Broadcast your business news to John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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