Lari Fiala, left, and Lori Belmonte, co-owners of The Colony Shop,...

Lari Fiala, left, and Lori Belmonte, co-owners of The Colony Shop, a 75-year-old boutique in Patchogue. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Success has been sweet for a Huntington candy store.

Sales at 26-year-old Sweeties Candy Cottage have hit a record high over the last year, and this Easter is following suit, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, owner Lisa Hodes said.

The candy store is selling record numbers of off-the-shelf and custom-made Easter baskets and individual treats, she said.

"I think people are trying to shop local. I think they have used our store as a vehicle for entertainment, because there is not much else to do," said Hodes, who bought the store 16 years ago.

Easter dinner newbies

Not only does Easter typically bring the highest attendance rates of the year for many churches, it also can be a big revenue driver for various businesses, from dressy-clothing stores to candy shops to barbershops.

This year, some Long Island retailers are reporting higher-than-normal Easter-related sales – some are hitting records – as consumers plan new and different ways to observe the holiday amid the pandemic, which led to months of business-related shutdowns starting in March 2020.

Sales are down at The Colony Shop, co-owner Lori Belmonte...

Sales are down at The Colony Shop, co-owner Lori Belmonte said: "It's not a normal Easter season." Credit: Danielle Silverman

Social-distancing practices have sent up grocery sales because more people plan to cook Easter dinner at home for their immediate families rather than attending large group gatherings or going to restaurants, grocers said.

"There’s a lot of first-timers" cooking Easter dinner, said Stew Leonard Jr., president and CEO of supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s, a Norwalk, Connecticut-based business whose seven stores include two on Long Island.

Fewer people in pews

But with many churches in New York State not having in-person services or limiting church capacity, there’s less spending on new dresses, suits and hats to sport on Sunday.

"Most of our churches are still doing their services virtually," said the Rev. Peter Cook, executive director of the New York State Council of Churches, which represents about 7,000 congregations across the state.

"There are some that are doing hybrid services where you have people in person with very significant social distancing. … but most churches, at least for us, are extremely cautious about doing in-person worship, even as the number of people getting vaccinated increases," said Cook.

Smaller gatherings

Local supermarkets are experiencing strong sales numbers for ham, lamb, eggs, candy, baking items and other products for Easter, grocers said.

"We are seeing an increase in Easter holiday-related items, which may indicate more ‘stay-at-home’ smaller gatherings like what we saw for Christmas and Thanksgiving," said Joseph Brown, executive vice president of Bethpage-based King Kullen Grocery Co. Inc., which has 30 King Kullen supermarkets and five Wild by Nature natural food stores.

In fact, King Kullen’s 2021 Easter sales are higher than they were in 2019, said Brown, who added that the company cannot compare current sales to those in "2020 since last spring Long Island was significantly impacted by COVID-19."

At Stew Leonard’s this year, Easter basket sales are double what they were in 2019, and egg sales are 10% higher, spokeswoman Meghan Bell said.

75-year history

But not all retailers' holiday sales are soaring.

Easter is normally on par with Christmas for strong sales at The Colony Shop, a Patchogue store that sells mostly special occasion clothes and accessories for babies and children, said Lori Belmonte, who co-owns the shop with her aunt, Lari Fiala.

But the last 12 months have been the hardest year in the 75-year-old family business’ history, and Easter is no exception, Belmonte said.

A year of quarantines, social distancing and canceled special events have meant parents aren’t buying as many kids’ dresses and suits for Easter, Christmas, weddings, etc. – and the store does not sell merchandise online, Belmonte said.

"It’s not a normal Easter season. I’m going to say it’s better than I thought it would be but it’s not what it should be," she said.

The store’s overall sales are down 15%, but the shop is focusing on its high level of customer service and more social media marketing to get foot traffic back up, said Fiala, whose mother founded the shop.

For this grandma, business as usual

Shirley resident Debbie Onody shopped at Walmart in Farmingdale on Thursday for candy, stickers and other items to make Easter baskets for her two granddaughters, 3 and 5.

"I buy all the good stuff. I'm Grandma," she said.

That is a tradition, as is holding an Easter egg hunt for the girls at her and her husband's home, said Onody, who added that the Catholic family typically does not attend church.

The pandemic is not changing anything.

"It doesn't because it's always the same in spirit. The meaning of Easter is what it is. It's all about Christ. And we do this for the children," she said.

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