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How small businesses, local towns, and new Americans are preparing for the holiday season.

Woman standing by holiday gifts and decorations in a small shop
Scott Willis/WAER News
Wendy Lee of Paola Kay Gifts in Fayetteville aims for unique items that will make special gifts.

Small businesses in Central New York count on profits from the holidays to make for a successful year, but have to fight against both big box stores and online retail. Local towns, villages and cultural organizations mark the season with special events to bring people together. Meanwhile, new Americans and refugees recently relocated to the Syracuse area.

The latest edition of Syracuse Speaks talks with local businesses, an organization helping families have some warmth during the holidays, and a review of seasonal events and activities. Listen at link above.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and despite the ongoing increase in online sales, brick-and-mortar retailers across Central New York are still seeing plenty of traffic. That includes independent, locally operated shops that seem to defy the e-commerce trend and have carved out what might be considered an old-fashioned niche of hand-selected products and personalized service.  Paola Kay Gifts on Brooklea Drive is owned by Wendy Lee.  In addition to competition, she's dealing with other challenges, stemming from the pandemic.

"We've bounced back pretty well from the supply chain issue. (Instead) it's getting the product here that's getting very expensive and ... every day expenses have gone up," said Lee.
She tries to stand out with unique products that make special gifts.

Casey Rose Frank, who owns Golden Bee Bookstore in Syracuse. She and her staff have found personal service helps.

"We're capable of making tailored recommendations, ... in the holiday season that's especially helpful. When somebody comes in and says, 'My Aunt Margaret only reads this type of book. What do you have?' ... We're able to find something that's going to be a really good fit for them," said Frank.

She adds the shop has books at different price points, especially in the children's section, to make sure most people can afford a nice gift.

A steady stream of customers has already been doing holiday shopping at The Gift Box on Fay Road in Onondaga. Owner Jan Constas started making selections for what would be on her shelves way back in January and February.

"A lot of things (in the shop) are hand made ... things i know my customers love. It's fun to do that. you get to hand pick them and decide, oh, is this going to sell, or is this going to be a hot item this year," said Constas.

The holidays can be a time of stress even for economically secure families. But what about financially vulnerable refugees who struggle to provide gifts or food for their children — or are alone — in a new culture? Surrounded by Christmas celebrations for perhaps the first time in their lives can be unsettling.

InterFaith Works of Central New Yorkhelps to resettle refugees in the area. Many of whom are non-Christians fleeing wars, political repression or famine through federal programs. But InterFaith Works does a little extra for the holidays, with the community’s help. It’s because they want to ensure that some of the most vulnerable newcomers don’t feel excluded.  

Rhonda Butler of InterFaith Works says the organization reaches out to refugee families to try and make them feel welcome during holiday time with the help of members of the community.

"...then you would go out and fill a laundry basket, because they can always use that laundry basket, with teas and honeys and slippers for the kids and things like that that gives them something warm and shows them from their community, that they are receiving a welcoming basket," explained Butler.

Individuals, businesses and other groups who’d like to donate a holiday basket or other items can find more information at  

 The City of Syracuse is getting ready to welcome thousands of visitors downtown during the holidays…. while nearby Skaneateles offers up its traditional Dicken’s Christmas event to lure visitors to the village.  Downtown CommitteePresident Merike Treier says people can get into the season at museums, strolling decorated storefronts, or finding special performances.

"We have activities gong throughout the holiday season, ... daytime family activities, but we also have a number of our cultural institutions that schedule holiday programming," said Treier.

More information about events in Syracuse is at

Bob Beck, a veteran media professional, currently serves as a part-time editor/host at WAER Public Radio and an adjunct professor at Syracuse University. Beck retired as News Director at Wyoming Public Radio in 2022 after 34 years. During his time, Beck won 5 regional Edward R. Murrow awards and 5 Public Media Journalists Association awards for reporting. He also won 11 PMJA awards for the news and public affairs program Open Spaces. He was awarded the Wyoming School Bell award for education reporting and was part of two Emmy Award winning television productions. You can find him on X under the name @butterbob.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.