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Historic Triangle sees shift to online retail

Brenda Douros's business has been selling home decor and antiques in a traditional retail shop for 40 years.

On Feb. 15, she plans to close the Lamplighter Shoppe at 1322 Jamestown Road and transform her business into an online-only retail shop.

"I think online is going to be very important," Douros said.

The Historic Triangle is seeing the larger nationwide shift in the shopping economy as more people move away from bricks-and-mortar businesses to buy goods online. Consumers began buying more items online than in traditional retail stores for the first time, according to a survey published in June by the United Parcel Service and comScore.

The National Retail Federation's consumer survey reported that on Black Friday weekend in November, 3 million fewer people visited stores while 5.5 million more placed holiday orders online.

Williamsburg Economic Development Authority Vice Chairman Rick Overy said he is seeing a lot of restaurants and home-based businesses opening in the area.

"I think we've seen in the city a lot of local businesses expanding, but mostly in restaurants," Overy said. "Local businesses are figuring out how to attract local business through the internet."

The taxes collected by retailers has a direct impact on area localities. Williamsburg collected more than $4 million in sales taxes in the 2016 fiscal year while James City County collected $10.6 million, according to the localities budgets.

Launchpad acts as a business incubator for Yorktown, Williamsburg and James City County. Tim Ryan, Launchpad manager, said new businesses usually try to sell their product online before opening a brick-and-mortar shop.

"I think based on the margins the numbers are so much better online. It gives business owners an avenue to test the market and see if they can get the traction they need to survive," Ryan said. "They will test online first and then venture out."

The shift to online shopping is making traditional retailers rethink their business plans.

Chuck Tatelbaum is a director at Tripp Scott, a Florida-based law firm that focuses his practices on bankruptcy and creditors' rights issues. He says people are shifting back to shopping at more specialized stores and said depending on where "mom and pop" stores are located it can help their businesses. Tatelbaum said "mom and pop" stores that stand alone and positioned further from big retail chains will be more successful.

Still, the allure of seeing an item in person can be enticing.

"It's tough to replace the charm of window shopping on Duke of Gloucester Street or some of our other shopping centers," said Greg Granger, owner of WMBG radio station. "Shopping is an activity as opposed to a means to an end for a lot of people. Certain people will always want to do the window shopping and have their senses tingling. The touching of an item and the seeing of an item. If you just want to check something off a list then online shopping can be utilized for that."

Granger, like Douros, has been in the area for years and has seen the Williamsburg area change first hand but said some things remain constant.

"Shopping has always been a pastime of people in Williamsburg," Douros said.

She said running a business in Williamsburg has allowed her to meet a unique group of people.

"If you wanted to take a trip and meet interesting people that's always fun, but here in Williamsburg those people come to you. We had the most interesting clientele come through our doors. It was always a treat to open the door and see where someone was from," Dourous said.

Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.

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