Editor's Note: This story is from November 2021.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, right? But supply chain issues and worker shortages don’t have everyone feeling quite so spirited.
“Oh, this is the greatest time of year,” said Greg Pataky of Stratford, who started decorating for Christmas in October. “How do you not love Christmas?”
But some consumers are concerned about how the holiday shopping will look this year.
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“I’ve seen a lot of, you know, shelves empty and it’s kind of scary,” said Rosa Rivas of Manchester, who plans to start shopping for gifts for her grandkids sooner rather than later.
Pataky started Christmas shopping back in July after he says he began to see supply chain issues impact the industry where he works.
A University of New Haven expert in management and industrial psychology says no question this holiday shopping season is going to look and feel different.
“We might have lots of retailers without enough sales associates on the floor to help customers as they traditionally would want,” said Maurice “Mo” Cayer, a distinguished lecturer in psychology and management at UNH.
Cayer also spent time leading teams at JC Penney and Macy’s.
“What I’m worried about though is they will sacrifice being fussy on who they hire.” He says that could impact customers and our holiday shopping experience.
But it you need a job, Cayer says there’s never been a better time to apply.
“It’s the best of times for people looking for jobs, right? There are over 10 million openings.”
Cayer says we’ll continue to see creative efforts to entice people to work like higher pay, better days off, employee discounts and child care.
‘The workers have a lot of leverage. The employers, it’s the worst of times.”
So as store managers balance trying to get more merchandise and manpower, Cayer says expect price increases.
Meanwhile, retail stores are asking shoppers for extra patience and support this season.
“We would have most of our stock in, the majority, by September,” said Susan Haddad, who co-owns The Pink Sleigh in Westbrook with her husband.
Last year, local stores like The Pink Sleigh had to limit the number of shoppers inside for pandemic safety precautions, but this season the owners of the festive Christmas shop are fielding a new challenge: getting their merchandise.
“At first, we were told one month delay, which is now turning into two months delay,” Haddad explained about some of the items that she ordered months ago.
“We know that there is certain amount of things we will not get in because they’re not going to arrive on time.”
Local grocery stores are feeling the supply chain stress too.
“We are starting to get a little nervous,” said Molly Devanney, vice president of public relations for Highland Park Market, which has locations in Glastonbury, Manchester, and Farmington.
“We don’t know if families are going to be able to get everything they want for the holidays.” Devanney said their grocery store is doing what they can to prepare.
Even before families began envisioning their thanksgiving spreads, Highland Park Market rented a freezer truck outside of their Manchester store to start stocking up on holiday essentials.
“We’re putting orders in for say 400 cases of something and probably getting 25% of that order,” she said.
But one of the hardest things to find this season: workers.
“It's been tough to find help,” said Jamie DiStefano, vice president of the Stew Leonard’s in Danbury, who says finding employees is much worse than any supply issue the business is witnessing.
It’s a problem even grocery stores are seeing before at least double their business during the holiday season.
“Short staffed in all of our store locations,” said Devanney.
“For Danbury ourselves, we're looking to hire anywhere from two to 300 people,” said DiStefano, who says that includes seasonal and full time employees.
Stores are doing everything they can to hire more people from incentives to pay increases.
Highland Park Market never had a problem hiring for holidays in the past. Now management says they’re reaching out to college kids to come back and work on their winter break.
As there’s a push to hire more workers, grocery stores suggest you stock up on your holiday favorites now.
“Do it now, have it, just put your mind at ease,” said Devanney.
Retail stores have the same warning.
“We’re going to be faced with more shoppers and less inventory,” said Haddad.
As they deck the halls with whatever they can get…
“I think it’s that whole, be kind to others. You know, There are some people that are here that are just working out of the kindness of their heart because they know the community needs groceries,” said Devanney.