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Shop Early to Avoid Supply Chain Drama

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Claire Benedict has the shelves at Bear Pond Books stacked for the holidays. Photo by John Lazenby

Montpelier merchants are stocking up in the face of global supply chain interruptions and are urging holiday gift givers to shop early or risk being disappointed come December.

Shortages of raw materials, backups at U.S. ports of entry, a lack of labor from plant and warehouse workers to truck drivers, and the persistent COVID-19 virus have heightened concerns that products might not be on the shelves if holiday shoppers procrastinate this season.

Two local sellers of jewelry and books, perennially popular gift ideas, are gently warning shoppers who want specific items to act now or take their chances with inventory that cannot be replaced in time for Christmas.

“We’re stockpiling books like you wouldn’t believe,” said Claire Benedict, owner of Bear Pond Books. “We’re probably stocked better than we ever have been.” 

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Benedict said her storage room is bulging as she has ordered more books than usual in anticipation of supply chain issues. Unlike past years, shortages of paper and a lack of labor means that the titles most in demand will not likely be reprinted in time for the holidays. In other words, once they’re gone, they’re gone.

“It’s not a crisis right now,” she said. “If people are aware and shop accordingly they should find what they want. But if they wait until the week before Christmas they could be disappointed.”

The supply challenges are exacerbated by a surge in demand for almost every consumer good, including books. An article posted on Vox.com, citing the industry data source NPD Bookscan, reported that book sales jumped 13.2 percent from 2020 to 2021, and are up 21 percent from 2019 to 2021 as people stayed home due to the pandemic.

This year’s hot titles should be available, Benedict said, but again there is a sense of urgency as books, especially those printed overseas, might not be restocked in time.

This could be the case with the just-released book “Renegades: Born In The USA” by former President Barack Obama and rocker Bruce Springsteen. With 320 pages and 350 photographs, it will not likely be reprinted until January or later.

Likewise the new books “State of Terror: A Novel” by Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton and “The Lincoln Highway: A Novel,” by Amor Towles are proving to be hot buys, Benedict said.

“I know that there are things that people will want that we won’t be able to get,” she said. “Cookbooks and books with a lot of color photography that are printed overseas won’t be able to be reprinted before the holidays.”

She said books aren’t the only casualties in the global supply struggle, citing a local holiday card-maker who was unable to ship his cards on time because of a shortage of boxes. The boxes arrived and the cards are now in stock, she said.

Time is Money

Jewelry gift boxes and the 65 different watch batteries she stocks are among the shortages making life difficult for Jeannemarie Schinhofen, owner of Katie’s Jewels. Deliveries that used to arrive overnight are now delayed two to four weeks, forcing her to spend hours hunting for other suppliers, which takes time away from designing new pieces.

Jeannemarie Schinhofen at Katie’s Jewels. Photo by John Lazenby.

“As soon as something goes out of stock I have to look elsewhere,” Schinhofen said. “And the hours I spend online looking for batteries, boxes, bags, and parts are hours that I’m not spending getting work out.”

She, too, has been ordering as much inventory as possible to guard against holiday shortages, which means putting money up front for items that may or may not sell.

“It’s costing me time, which then relates to money,” she said. “I am overstocking just a little bit because there won’t be time to reorder, adding inventory in case it becomes hard to get pieces closer to the holidays.”

The supply disruptions also extend to metals, with specialized silver and gold parts no longer being stocked in warehouses, but made on demand. Labor shortages and warehouse closures due to the pandemic are the likely cause.

“I just waited four months for one joint in silver, not an expensive part, for the back of an earring,” Schinhofen said. “But that one joint I couldn’t get for four months.”

Schinhofen, who has owned Katie’s Jewels for 11 years, said the pandemic has been difficult but that locals have stepped up to fill the void left by missing tourists and given her a new perspective on work-life balance. 

“The more adaptable I can be to the current climate that we’re in, whatever it is, the more successful a life I can have,” she said.

If shoppers likewise adapt to a changing supply chain environment there should be happy gift recipients and happy local business owners come Christmas morning.