The time between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays could affectionately be referred to as the mad dash in American culture.

That’s because many of us spend that month trying to find the most unique and thoughtful gifts for everyone on our list—just in time to mail them off for arrival on the holiday itself.

Last year, a global pandemic completely upended the way we even attempted to celebrate the holidays. For many of us, creative virtual festivities took the place of in-person get-togethers. But this year, with almost 60 percent of Americans fully vaccinated and travel expected to rebound to pre-pandemic levels, there is hope that some gatherings can once again happen in person.

But of course, it wouldn’t be 2021 if a wrinkle didn’t appear. Nationwide supply chain shortages, driven by a sharp increase in consumer demand and container-ship gridlock, have led to significant product delays. "Do your holiday shopping now!" some media headlines implored.

Local Sarasota businesses have certainly felt the pressure and the holiday rush even earlier this year. Still, many say they’re well-stocked despite any supply chain issues, because their success has come down to advanced preparation.

At local boutique Mercantile Home and Apparel, which sells clothing, jewelry and lifestyle accessories on St. Armands Circle and in downtown Sarasota, customers have already started asking about Christmas supplies—sometimes as early as before Halloween. Owner Laura Reed counts ornaments, decor, Nativity scenes and wine toppers among her most popular holiday-themed trinkets.

“We did put things out early and we have been selling quite a lot,” she says. “We’re listening to the customers. People want to be happy and festive, and they’re excited for Christmas coming.”

Her quick-thinking may have saved her. She generally orders holiday items in September but decided this year to opt for June, concerned about possible delays. Only now are the supply chain issues starting to become evident.

“I’m starting to see lags in shipping, which I hadn’t until the last six weeks,” she says. “Our shipping is becoming much more delayed than it usually is.”

At downtown Sarasota’s Bookstore1, the bookshop sent an email to customers encouraging them to start their holiday shopping early to ensure on-time arrivals.

“Supply chain issues have affected every industry, and that includes us,” says assistant manager Katia Diamond-Sagias.

So far, that has mostly materialized as “ominous warnings” from publishers. Distributors generally advise stores to order ahead for the holidays to avoid backorders and not having enough stock, according to Diamond-Sagias. That decision is of the utmost importance: holidays are Bookstore1’s biggest time of year.

Gallery and coffee table books are popular sellers during the holidays, as are some of the store’s non-book items, like handmade puppets, stationery puzzles and literary-themed mugs. The winter months are also a common time for highly publicized books to come out, said Diamond-Sagias.

“Books come out every Tuesday, and there’s a slew of highly anticipated books that have been getting a lot of press,” Diamond-Sagias says. “Everything is turning over really fast.”

Downtown Sarasota’s childhood emporium, Toy Lab, is experiencing an influx in business right now, according to manager Crystal Carle.

“People are definitely buying gifts right,” Carle says. “I think people are down here and they’re either traveling or just visiting. We’ve been busy—it’s been good.”

Like other local owners, she ordered in advance and hoped for the best. That strategy paid off. 

“I decided to order really large and felt that whatever comes in, comes in,” she says. “I didn’t hold back. I just ordered.”

Carle tries to keep the store stocked with a mix of toys that are popular and unique, and that customers can’t find elsewhere. She’s prepared for certain items to fly off the shelves, like the Shashibo, a shape-shifting box that can make more than 70 shapes, and the Inside Outsies plush dolls, which can be reversed to reveal a smile or a frown depending on a child’s mood.

“I’ve tried to find things that other places don’t have,” she said. “I might have a few things that Target and Walmart have, but not for the most part.”

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