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Dells’ area retail stores prepare for holiday season amid COVID-19 pandemic
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Dells’ area retail stores prepare for holiday season amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Wisconsin Dells area retail stores large and small are preparing for the holiday season in what’s been a challenging year for almost any industry with the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Black Friday Nov. 27, many stores are putting the finishing touches on lining the shelves with the best bargains and decorating for the holiday season. Though in some stores holiday shopping might look a bit different than in previous years due to market conditions the pandemic has caused and safety precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Consumers have already been shopping earlier. According to the National Retail Federation website, as of early November, 59% of holiday shoppers have made purchases, a 21% increase from a decade ago. For those who had completed their holiday shopping by early November, 26% had done so compared to 18% at this time a decade ago and 42% of people surveyed said they had started their holiday shopping earlier than they normally do, according to the survey.

The survey highlighted consumers’ plan to spend about $998 on gifts, holiday items such as decorations and food, and additional “non-gift” purchases for themselves and their families. The amount includes $650 in gifts for family, friends and co-workers. In total, about $9 million less than last year.

Many stores have adopted an early deals concept due to the pandemic to have shoppers avoid crows often seen with last-minute holiday shopping. Sales at Outlets at the Dells started early with 25% early bird deals at select stores from Nov. 1 until Nov. 25, according to its website. Touch free coupons are also available on the mall’s website.

The Outlets mall will not open on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26. Instead, all stores will open at 5 a.m. for Black Friday, according to General Manager Michelle Zuelke and the mall’s website. She said the mall, which includes 54 stores, will offer gifts with purchase promotions, offering a gift card after spending a specific amount on Black Friday from each of the 54 stores at the mall.

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Some stores at the mall are allowing shoppers to reserve their place in line. In addition, stores are trying to provide shoppers the ability to purchase gift cards and ship it to someone without leaving their house, she said.

While the 200,000 square foot facility includes a common area with an open air layout, signs are located around the mall to encourage social distancing and wearing masks, along with hand sanitizing stations. Zuelke said all employees are temperature checked every day and employees are asked to do a self-check before coming to work. Drinking fountains have been shut off and restroom sinks have been moved further apart.

To keep customers coming back and safe while they shop, Zuelke said the mall plans to create “warming spots” around the common areas to provide spots for cider, coffee and hot chocolate for customers while waiting in line. The spots will be ready by Thanksgiving weekend and available every weekend through the holiday season, she said.

The spots will also include pop-up vendors, some who couldn’t go to holiday craft events due to the virus.

“It isn’t a concept that’s unheard of to us,” Zuelke said of the pop-up locations. “It’s how do we do it on a much more global scale for a much longer period of time.”

The mall is also planning Santa and reindeer visits Nov. 28, Dec. 13 and Dec. 19, according to the mall’s website.

DooHickey’s plans first holiday season

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A smaller retail store in Wisconsin Dells, DooHickey’s Gifts and Souvenirs, opened Memorial Day weekend, about two weeks after the Safer at Home order was lifted. The shop is preparing for its first holiday season and Black Friday.

Currently, the store located in downtown Wisconsin Dells is offering up to 40% off on some of its merchandise in the store. Unlike some of the other major retail stores, Manager Taylor Frank said DooHickey’s won’t be open early but will have its normal hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Black Friday.

“We’re not sure what to expect,” Frank said. “This is our first year being open for Black Friday.”

The store plans to host a holiday open house Dec. 5, in conjunction with Wisconsin Dells’ new holiday tree lighting event. Details are still in the works for the store’s open house, but it’s looking at conducting some giveaways, discounts on Christmas and fall items, and serving cookies and hot holiday drinks. The store plans to decorate for the holiday season after Thanksgiving.

Frank, whose family owns Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty in Wisconsin Dells, said her family decided to open the year round store to offer something different to the downtown Dells area. The concept is the same as the gift store at Paul Bunyan’s, which closed for the season in November along with the restaurant.

Paul Bunyan's restaurant in Wisconsin Dells not serving lunch and dinner for remainder of season

While DooHickey’s includes several items from apparel to candy and jewelry to home décor, it also includes items that possibly won’t be found in Paul Bunyan’s gift shop, such as furniture and its signature lamps in the front window.

“We really wanted to put something in the Dells that wasn’t your typical T-shirt shop or fudge shop,” Frank said Oct. 30. “Just something that was different, nice, new and just kind of something that gave people who came to the Dells and wanted to go shopping something different to look at downtown.”

Frank said the pandemic has created a challenge with some aspects of operating the store, mainly working with vendors with reps working from home, supply chain delays and staffing. Frank said Oct. 30 that in-store traffic was similar to what’s normally seen during the off season in the Dells, but was less with the 25% capacity and mask mandate issued by Gov. Tony Evers to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“This is when we slow down and we expect it,” Frank said. “For the most part it’s been pretty consistent despite being in a pandemic.”

In the past few weeks, weekends have been a little busier Frank said Nov. 20.

She said the store is working on setting up an online website, which she estimates should be ready by Dec. 1 for people to purchase items online. The store plans to host Facebook Live sessions once a week after Thanksgiving to showcase what it offers on one of the days it’s closed, either Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The store will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday throughout the winter season. Items can also be placed by calling, emailing or messaging the store through its Facebook page.

Those who want to reach DooHickey’s can call 608-678-2218, visit its Facebook or Instagram page or send an email to: dellsdoohickeys@gmail.com.

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.

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