Kim Hirchak ordered Christmas merchandise for The Black Cat Shoppe, the eclectic gift store she owns in downtown Wilmington, in June.
Nearly four months later, her orders still haven't come in, and she's not sure they'll arrive anytime soon. She's waiting to hear whether they'll get the shipment by the week of Christmas, but she isn't optimistic.
"That’s kind of frustrating because it’s toys and things like that that sell really well at Christmas," Hirchak said.
In recent months, pandemic-related supply chain disruptions paired with shortages of workers and equipment have lead to bottlenecks in the process that brings goods from manufacturers and distributors to store shelves.
That's forced some local businesses to make strategic decisions about their prices and inventory as they gear up for the holiday shopping season. For many, Black Friday kicks off holiday shopping with the next day - Small Business Saturday - dedicated to supporting local businesses.
Despite supply chain issues and other pandemic restrictions, Hirchak said business has been booming at The Black Cat Shoppe. Other downtown business owners have told Hirchak that they've noticed an uptick in sales this year, too.
“This is the busiest year we’ve ever had,” she said. “It’s just been insane.”
Shoppers spent approximately $19.8 billion at small businesses on Small Business Saturday last year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. That was up slightly from 2019 when shoppers spent $19.6 billion nationwide.
For every dollar spent at a small business, 67 cents stays in the local economy, according to American Express, the company that pioneered Small Business Saturday in 2010. That means shopping local can have a positive ripple effects on the broader community.
Just a few storefronts down from The Black Cat Shoppe, Gary Coleman, the owner of Cape Fear Spice Merchants, is also struggling to get his hands on certain products before the holiday shopping season.
“There are some things we just can't get this year because they come from China or India, and they have to go through the LA port,” he said.
China and India are two of the biggest suppliers of loose leaf tea in the world, Coleman said, and loose leaf tea makes up roughly a third of the store's business. The store has also seen delays in olive oil shipments from California and had trouble getting the glass bottles they keep the oil in.
The delays and shortages have left the store's staff scrambling to "rethink" inventory, at least for now, Coleman said. To prepare for the holiday shopping season, Coleman rented out extra space to stockpile products he is able to get in so they won't run out of merchandise.
Hirchak has taken a similar approach, ordering small items, like incense, that her vendors had in stock to make up for the things she could not get.
“I would order way more than I needed,” she said. “I feel like you're better off having product of some kind … than to focus in and worry too much about one item you can't get.”
Hirchak hasn't been able to get orders of gems and other metaphysical stones that often come from India or the west coast of the U.S.
“Our shelves have gotten pretty bare in that section,” she said.
The shelves at Heart of Carolina, a gift shop in the Cotton Exchange, have stayed full so far, according to store manager Lisa LaRue. But she expects to see the impact of supply chain problems as the issue continues to drag on.
Heart of Carolina focuses on selling items made by artists and vendors based in Wilmington and throughout North Carolina. That means many of the items have a supply chain that's more straightforward than products sourced from other countries.
“I rely more on UPS and FedEx versus (products) coming in on cargo ships,” LaRue said.
But the store is starting to see an impact. LaRue has struggled to get in orders of the painted wine glasses that normally line a shelf near the store's register. That's because the artist who paints the glasses can't get enough wine glasses in to fill her orders.
LaRue anticipates future shortages in small things like the glass bottles and plastic containers that hold the store's North Carolina-made "goodies" and the canvasses and other materials artists use for their paintings as the holidays get closer.
Wilmington's State Port is seeing some of the supply chain delays, said North Carolina Ports Executive Director Brian Clark. Most of the delays are being seen in the trans-Pacific service with ships delayed days or even weeks, Clark said.
The lag often stems from the ships not being able to get into other east coast ports on schedule. Wilmington's port imports chemicals along with products used in the auto and apparel industry, among other things. They export agricultural products and refrigerated cargo, according to Clark.
Ports that have been hardest hit by supply chain problems are those driven by consumer goods and ecommerce, but in recent weeks, the scale of the supply chain problems have become increasingly apparent, Clark said.
“It's clear, there's certainly challenges around the world. It's just not on the port sector, and it's certainly just not in the United States," he said. "There is a severe strain on the supply chain on a global basis right now.”
For ideas about where to shop small this year, check out the Facebook pages of Wilmington Downtown Inc. or Bring it Downtown Wilmington, the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce and Shop Pender County.
Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Wilmington NC businesses face shortages over supply chain problems s