Supply chain problems choke small businesses in Johnstown

JOHNSTOWN – Edna Dermott, who owns The Plaid Giraffe café and gift shop with her family, worries the business will soon go bankrupt.

“If it stays like this, I’ll close my doors.” We won’t have a choice, ”said Dermott, who says she’s been in the downtown Johnstown store for 11 years.

“It hurts because I am taking money from my house to support my business. We take our household money and put it here to pay the bills, ”she said on a recent Friday afternoon. “That’s all we can do, but we can only do it for such a long time.”

Like many small businesses in the United States and Johnstown, The Plaid Giraffe feels pain on many fronts. From the decrease in foot traffic to the continued backlog in the supply chain, small businesses like those in Johnstown are bearing a heavy burden due to the pandemic. Business owners in the city say they hope events like Small Business on Saturday Nov. 27 can encourage people to patronize local stores, because the bottom line is that if business doesn’t improve, many. businesses that give Main Street America its appeal may be forced to close.

“So we don’t have a city center; we have Walmart, ”said Jessica Henry McClements, president of the Downtown Johnstown Business and Professional Association and owner of McLemon’s Boutique. “So you don’t have the lovely and unique businesses here. ”

Dermott pointed to the empty tables in the Plaid Giraffe. Before the pandemic, Dermott said the cafe would typically be bustling with a lunchtime crowd eating sandwiches, wraps and paninis. At the moment, the store had no customers.

“We went down right away,” she said.

Dermott said the company had to shut down for about four months during the pandemic and has not returned to normal volume since. As a result, The Plaid Giraffe has reduced its hours to four days a week instead of six, Dermott said.

It doesn’t help that food costs rise and the delivery of supplies is unpredictable, she said.

“My cost price alone is four times as high as six months ago,” Dermott said. “The costs of food are just out of sight. “

Shawn Beebie, owner of Second Wind Coffee, said he’s struggling with an unpredictable supply, an issue that presents additional challenges for a small business that uses so much product every day.

“There are so many subtleties and objects. From towels to paper towels to toilet paper, ”Beebie said. “But then you have sugar. I have six different sugars that I need to keep track of. There are also items like sticks, lids, cups and sleeves. “And then all the food items,” Beebie said. “The fries and all the baked goods and all the ingredients for baking, the ingredients for making the sandwiches. It’s a lot.”

Beebie said her suppliers, such as Driscoll Foods and Sysco, often can’t fulfill parts of orders, but there’s no predictable pattern. One week he says he won’t be able to have headlines, the next he won’t be able to have cream cheese.

“You don’t know what they’re going to come out of every week,” he said.

Beebie, who has been forced to lay off his entire six-person team, said he has done what he can to get around shortages, but it can be difficult and is not sustainable. For example, when plastic cups weren’t available during the summer, Beebie said he served frozen drinks in paper cups, which tend to leak over time.

To deal with the unpredictability, business owners like Beebie and Dermott have said they are ordering supplies in larger quantities, but this is putting financial pressure on a time when business is sluggish.

“We’re trying to store a little more than I want, but we’re trying not to store too much because business hasn’t exploded,” Dermott said.

Of course, it’s not just restaurants and cafes affected by supply chain disruptions.

Nicole DeLorenzo, owner of Vishnu Music and Varieties, explains that a few electro-acoustic guitars tell the story. DeLorenzo said she ordered the guitars, which have a “tiger finish” in March, but her distributor told her the instruments won’t be available until the summer. Summer is here, no guitars. He was told they would be available in the fall. They still haven’t arrived.

“Hope to have them for Christmas,” DeLorenzo said. But the latest news is that the guitars aren’t expected to arrive until next year. DeLorenzo said that in over 30 years running a music store, she has never waited so long for an order. Typically, a guitar arrives within a few weeks, she said.

“It makes it tough because I can’t get things as fast as I could in the past,” DeLorenzo said. “The downside is that we can only guarantee what we have in the store.”

DeLorenzo, who stocks around 100 guitars, said she places orders with wholesalers across the country who collect the products and keep them in shipping containers. She said she was working with a distributor in New York City who had items waiting to be unloaded in California for over a month. This distributor also told DeLorenzo that the price of shipping containers is now three times the costs before the pandemic..

“It ends up being passed on, passed on, passed on,” DeLorenzo said.

She explained that small businesses often struggle to keep pace with big box stores, such as Guitar Center, which can place orders in greater numbers and therefore have easier access to shipping containers.

“We try to be as competitive as possible,” said DeLorenzo, adding that small businesses have the advantage of maintaining personal relationships with their customers – a dynamic that is useful in a music store, where instruments need to be. physically handled, adjusted and repaired. “We offer a more personal touch. ”

Louanne Vannostrand, who has helped run the family-owned Something Special baby and children’s clothing and toy store for 31 years, knows the personal relationships. She said she has seen babies grow up to have babies of their own. If downtown stores disappear, the city loses that continuity and family feeling, she said.

“[These businesses] make our community a better place.

Like many companies, Something Special has had unprecedented difficulty obtaining merchandise, Vannostrand said.

“It’s clear at all levels,” she said. For example, on a recent order, she was able to get a lot of girls ‘clothes, but the majority of the boys’ clothes she requested were not available.

“This is all just weird,” Vannostrand said. “It’s like someone drops a rock and it reverberates and affects everything.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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