EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories exploring the state of businesses in town and their strategies, struggles and successes as cold weather arrives and COVID-19 cases rise.
Over the past three years, it's been one crisis after another — the Merrimack Valley gas disaster, a flood that displaced her shop for about a year and now a pandemic.
But Lisa Schiavone, owner of the local store Helen Thomas, has adapted and pushed through.
"We are doing well, but it's a funny time," Schiavone, of Methuen, said.
Most certainly the store is quieter, she said. She's selling artwork and collectibles via Instagram, Facebook, and even doing personal Facetime shopping trips for those who don't feel comfortable coming in these days.
But it's also worrisome knowing that families from Phillips Andover Academy and Merrimack College will likely not stop by to shop on their way to bring students home.
Ann Ormond, Andover's director of business, arts and culture, is all too aware of the challenges local business owners face.
"I thought the gas crisis was bad." Ormond said. "This is worse."
However, she added, "This community has been very resilient and creative. They know each other well and they need to work together to survive."
Ormond has been working closely with businesses throughout the pandemic and is currently working on various local shopping incentives for the holiday season. These next few weeks are a make-it-or-break-it scenario for many businesses that have seen multiple crises over the past few years.
"Going into the winter, creativity is another big thing retailers have to think about," Ormond said. "Think 'how am I going to weather the winter?' You can't just hunker down. You have to be proactive."
Over the next few weeks, The Andover Townsman will be checking in with retailers, restaurants and other businesses to see how they are adapting and what local business owners want shoppers to know as they spend their dollars this year.
"If you are going to order something, try to order it from us first," Schiavone said. "You will get it and get it wrapped nicely. And you are helping so many people out."
Down the street Christina Cipro manages Shaban's of Andover, a men's apparel store.
"When we first reopened back in June we had tremendous loyalty and support as a family business," Cipro said.
But business has since petered out, she said.
A month ago when the weather was warm it was hard to find a parking space downtown, but that has since changed with colder temperatures and the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, she said. She wants people to know Shaban's and fellow retailers are all adhering to the laws in place to protect consumers and workers.
"We (shop managers and owners) have all been talking locally that people feel obligated to shop local, but we haven't really seen it," Cipro said. "When is that going to exist?"
The small business community in town "tries to support one another," she said.
"Like I always ask, 'Did you go next door to Cristina's to get something for your wife?'" Cipro said. "I try to refer everyone around to be a good neighbor and support the downtown shops."
Shaban's isn't really able to pivot to online sales well, Cipro said, because so many things are customized and fitted for the shopper. So the store does special personal shopping hours, she said.
Likewise, Kay Demaso, owner of Quiet Pleasures Jewelry, hasn't turned to online sales because she thinks people need to be able to feel and see items up close to purchase them, she said.
Customers are coming in and distancing, she noted. There's only been one instance someone walked in without a mask, but she immediately grabbed it out of her purse to put it on, Demaso said.
So far this year, Demaso is thankful she's been able to pay her bills and hopes people continue coming into the store.
The strong and dedicated local following Demaso built in the 17 years she's owned the business feels like friends. Her favorite part is asking new grandmothers about their grandchildren, asking about anniversaries or other life moments, she said. That customer service is only available at small businesses like hers, she said.
"Small businesses support the town in a lot of ways — they contribute to the health and vitality of the town and they are local taxpayers," she said.
The pandemic is not deterring some new entrepreneurs though.
Andover residents Gia Rosenberg Cyrier and Megan DeSanty opened Twenty20 Boutique in August. They are based out of a small office space on Elm Street but do all of their sales online. They specialize in flash sales of their products shown on their Instagram @twenty20boutique four days a week.
"It eliminates the time shopping going page after page," DeSanty said. "Instead we've curated different looks for the season you can shop more easily."
They then drop off products at local customers' houses that same day. And while they don't have a permanent brick-and-mortar presence, they will have a pop-up shop for Thanksgiving weekend and are working on collaborations with other businesses.
"I hope people consider shopping locally, especially now," DeSanty said. "Amazon isn't going to miss your order. To us every order really does matter. We get excited at every order big or small, returning customer or new."