Small Businesses Faced With Skyrocketing Shipping Costs—If They Can Even Buy What They Need

“I don’t know anybody who isn’t having any problems getting stuff.”
By Jackson Elliott
Jackson Elliott
Jackson Elliott
Reporter
Jackson Elliott reports on small-town America for The Epoch Times. He learned to write and seek truth at Northwestern University. He believes that the most important actions are small and that as Dostoevsky says, everyone is responsible for everyone and for everything. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys running, reading, and spending time with friends. Contact Jackson by emailing jackson.elliott@epochtimes.us
, Jannis Falkenstern
Jannis Falkenstern
Jannis Falkenstern
Jannis Falkenstern is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Florida.
and Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Ohio.
December 8, 2021 Updated: December 9, 2021

Christmas means more than presents, but some of the gifts that celebrate the season will be sadly lacking this year.

According to businesses across the country, supply chain issues and government regulations have made it difficult to get goods for Christmas.

The worst problem for businesses is the shipping cost, several local business owners said.

Stores that rely on overseas goods face an extremely challenging situation, said Jeremy and Rebecca Berlin, the owners of Bella Balsamic in Punta Gorda, Fla.

The pair have spent a decade in business in Florida selling olive oils and balsamics imported from Europe.

Epoch Times Photo
Empty shelves are seen at Mary Arnold Toys, New York city’s oldest toy store, on Aug. 2, 2021. (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

“Our products are the freshest that each hemisphere has to offer,” Rebecca Berlin said.

“We mostly import our vinegars from Italy, and the olives and oils come from Europe—and depending on what time of the year it is, will determine which hemisphere we’re buying from.”

“This year has been like no other,” she said. “Between COVID, the supply chain issues, and inflation, it’s just been weird.”

She believes that the country is still experiencing a “Trump economy” and the effects of what is happening in Washington, D.C., will not be felt until next year.

Epoch Times Photo
Trucks fill up on gas at the One9 truck stop in Wildwood, Georgia on Oct. 20, 2021. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

“That’s when all the new tax regulations will hit,” she said. “COVID took out a lot of the Chinese workforce, and I can’t even get bottles to put my oils in.”

She said she adapted to glass bottle shortages by buying plastic containers for olive oil and balsamics, and told her customers to “keep their [glass] bottles” so they can store their oils long term.

Although business has been good enough lately to give employees a raise, the Berlins said they will eventually have to raise prices if shortages continue.

Epoch Times Photo
Sharon Fultd, from Indiana, and her friend Ellen Hollingsworth, from Punta Gorda, sample the products at Bella Balsamic in Punta Gorda, Fla, on Dec. 7, 2021. (Jann Falkenstern/The Epoch Times)

Supply chain issues mean that Christmas shoppers will pay at least 15 to 20 percent more than what they did a year ago.

In the small town of West Milton, Ohio, near Dayton, visiting 94-year old family business Wertz Variety is a Christmas tradition for many shoppers. It feels like returning to a bygone era.

Its owner, Georgia Wertz-Woolery, said she has seen a change during a year of inflation, the ongoing supply chain issues, and skyrocketing gasoline prices.

The cost of shipping on the freight that arrives on the delivery trucks has gone up between 27 to 31 percent of the goods price–an increase of 10 to 12 percent over last year, she said.

Epoch Times Photo
A tree is loaded into a box truck as part of a large tree order at North Pole Xmass Trees in Nashua, New Hampshire, on Nov. 21, 2021. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

“Yes, that’s going to cause prices to go up,” Wertz-Woolery told the Epoch Times. “When you see an increase of freight from 27 percent to 31 percent, that cost has to be passed somewhere. You just have to figure it out in your mark-up.”

Wertz-Woolery said shipping delays mean some Christmas items will arrive late, or not at all.

Christmas trees, plastic floral decorations, and women’s handkerchiefs no longer bend the worn wooden floor of Wertz Variety.

Most of the goods Wertz-Woolery can’t get are made in China.

“We’re not getting everything that we used to–and it’s pretty much that way everywhere,” she said.

But, as COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, shoppers have returned to Wertz Variety in full force.

“It’s been crazy,” she said. “People are realizing it’s important to support small and local businesses, and that’s been good for us. People thank us for being here. We love it, and we appreciate it.”

Foy’s Variety store in Fairborn, Ohio—near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base—survived the Great Depression, but now it can’t find candy to stock its shelves, said Annie Chapman, who has worked in the store for 20 years.

“We’re not getting string licorice, or black licorice,” Chapman said. “I don’t know anybody who isn’t having any problems getting stuff.”

Epoch Times Photo
Wertz Variety Store owner Georgia Wertz-Woolery (L) told the Epoch Times on Dec. 7 that the 94-year-old store has not received artificial floral items such as Poinsettias, Holly and plastic berries for decorative purposes. Store employee Anna Pratt (R) is organizing fabric in the store with Wertz-Woolery. (Michael Sakal/Epoch Times)

Sometimes, important religious items have also gone missing from stores.

Krista Long, who has owned the Ben Franklin variety store in Oberlin, near Cleveland, Ohio, for 20 years, said the store couldn’t buy Hannukah candles in time for the Jewish festival of lights, which ended two days ago.

“I don’t know why I didn’t get them,” Long said. “I ordered them. I’ll probably get them next week, and that’ll be too bad. Hanukkah is over. At least we do have Christmas items such as gift wrap paper and Christmas lights.”

Despite these difficulties, Long said the independent store is returning to its 2019 level of sales.

“All things considering, we’ve had a pretty good year,” Long said.

“By the end of the month, we’ll have reached 2019 sales levels. We have great local support here and, for that, we’re grateful.”

Local Love

For many small business owners, the loyalty of local customers is a beautiful Christmas gift.

Anita Headrick—the owner of Chattanooga, Tennessee, stores Alice Blue, Hanover Blue, and Electric Blue—said that local customer loyalty has helped her store stay open.

This loyalty has helped small outlets compete against giant companies like Amazon and Target that weren’t shut down by the government during the pandemic, she said.

Her customers actively try not to order online.

Epoch Times Photo
Anita Headrick, the owner of stores Alice Blue, Hanover Blue, and Electric Blue, examines a handbag while waiting for customers in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Dec. 7, 2021. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

“People in Chattanooga have been incredibly loyal to us,” Headrick said, referring to local stores.

“They’re trying to shop with all of us. When customers can’t find the color, or item, they want, they buy gift cards—or the same item in a different color—said Headrick.

She said she refers customers to other local stores if she lacks an item.

But the shortages are “massive,” said Headrick.

Leather goods, wrapping paper, boxes, garment bags, and other goods are challenging to find.

Although Headrick hasn’t let shipping costs affect her customers, she will have to soon.

“I might have a box that has three shirts in it and that will be $85 for shipping,” she said. “And when it’s overnight, it doesn’t mean it’s overnight. It could be here in three days.”

The Art of Christmas

The shortages and supply chain issues affect artists too, said Carley McGee-Boehm, the owner of Chattanooga’s Gallery 1401.

Although most artists have enough supplies in their studios to continue working, canvases for paintings are harder to find, she said. But, artists can find way around this problem.

“They already have this full studio, all of their supplies. So they don’t have an issue with paints or paint brushes. And they’re all extremely creative,” McGee-Boehm said.

To fix this issue, artists have started to use linen instead of canvas, she said.

Unlike smooth, flat canvas that provides a neutral surface to decorate with paint, linen is a bumpy, woven fabric. Paintings on it look less like paintings and more like tapestries.

Epoch Times Photo
A canvas painting (L) compared to a linen painting (R) at Carley McGee-Boehm’s Gallery 1401 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Dec. 7, 2021. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

“That linen is part of the work,” McGee-Boehm said. “The canvas is just the background transportation device for the work.”

After a year spent in lockdown, people hunger for art. Often, paintings sell from her gallery in just hours, McGee-Boehm said.

“We received these and they were on the wall for 18 hours and two pieces sold,” she said, pointing to a collection of paintings. “It has become the norm where pieces fly off the wall.”

This year, people want fun paintings with bright colors, she said. Depressing works struggle to sell.

“People have been staying focused on more joyful pieces,” said McGee-Boehm.

“I don’t think that anyone’s looking for anything that’s too somber. I found that light, soft, cheerful, or joyful, items have certainly been more attention getting.”

Jackson Elliott
Jackson Elliott reports on small-town America for The Epoch Times. He learned to write and seek truth at Northwestern University. He believes that the most important actions are small and that as Dostoevsky says, everyone is responsible for everyone and for everything. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys running, reading, and spending time with friends. Contact Jackson by emailing jackson.elliott@epochtimes.us
Jannis Falkenstern is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Florida.
Michael Sakal is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Ohio.