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Small businesses innovate online to stay open during pandemic

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DANE COUNTY (WKOW) -- As shoppers seek out safe ways to order up gifts this holiday season, employees at The Chocolate Caper are spending more time on the packing line.

The specialty chocolate and gifts store in Oregon has seen a surge in online sales throughout the pandemic and even more now that customers are starting to pick up gifts for the holidays.

"We've had to get very friendly with our local post office," said owner Elizabeth Donoghue. "We can overwhelm them a little bit, so we try to sweeten the pot and we bring them little gifts of chocolates so that they're happy to ship our packages."

Elizabeth and Dan Donoghue overhauled their website in fall, anticipating orders to pick up for the holidays, and added more gift options. It's drawn interest from customers across the country and helped balance out a drop in visitors to the store.

"It's definitely kept us, at least our heads above water, and we are very thankful for that considering a lot of businesses have not been able to do that," Dan said.

The shop is now shipping out half its orders online.

The packages are piling up at The Healthy Place in Fitchburg, too. Owner Tim O'Brien says the nutrition store had to commit early in the pandemic to focus on filling online orders.

"We would have had to look into layoffs, we would have had to restructure our company and our business, he said. "With the massive increase on our online platform, and the decrease in our in store traffic, for us it about leveled out, so I'm so thankful. I mean, without that we would not be in a healthy situation."

What was once three percent of sales, online purchases now make up 30 percent of all orders.

The shop, with four locations in Dane County, also offers wellness consultations online or by phone, to help give people the same experience they might have coming into the store.

"Your local businesses, we are the ones that care about you most and are going to work the hardest to care for you," O'Brien told 27 News.

Both business owners hope to see that support continue, as families look to their neighbors for what they need, especially on Cyber Monday.

"It is so important to support local because you're supporting your own community when you do that," said Elizabeth Donoghue. "These are the shops that typically sponsor your sports teams, that are giving back directly to your community. And the big box stores, they don't do that. So we all need to our avail ourselves of those from time to time."

If you're not sure where to start to find gifts or other purchases from local retailers this Cyber Monday, your area Chamber of Commerce likely has a list of stores that sell online.

You can also visit Dane Buy Local's marketplace to find Dane County businesses.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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