This year is shaping up to be a record year in sales for the Olive Branch Oil & Spice Co.

The small business on White Bear Lake's Banning Avenue has experienced a 20% increase in revenue over 2020, mostly because of people "rediscovering their kitchens" during the pandemic, said Bruce Bushey, who operates the store with his wife, Janet Richards, the store's owner.

The Olive Branch isn't the only small business in the city's downtown seeing increased sales. A paint store and furniture business have also been extremely busy during the pandemic, said Bushey, also president of the White Bear Lake Main Street association. Overall traffic in the shopping district is up at least 25% compared with 2020.

Like White Bear Lake, many other suburban main streets are flourishing during the pandemic as some residents, who are still working from home, opt to spend their dollars at nearby, locally owned stores.

"There's a big, strong push for people to shop small, and we're seeing it," Bushey said. "There's no doubt about it."

The vast majority of stores on White Bear Lake's downtown are mom-and-pop stores, and nearly 230 business belong to the city's downtown provisional tax district, he said.

Before the pandemic, Olive Branch had maybe five online sales in a month. With more people shopping online, they're now getting an average of 10 online sales a week, Bushey said.

David Joles, Star Tribune

The business district along 3rd Street in White Bear Lake is thriving, matching a trend seen in other suburban areas as shoppers stay local.

"It's kind of surprising," Bushey said. "When I came back, I did not think we'd have the business we did."

Over the past year and a half, west metro suburb Maple Grove has added five new businesses to its Main Street, and 10 more between its Shoppes at Arbor Lakes, Fountains at Arbor Lakes and Village at Arbor Lakes, according to Brett Angell, the city's economic development manager. Many of those commercial centers had vacancies dating to before the pandemic.

Some restaurants in Maple Grove had "lines out the door" for take-out orders during the pandemic, said Joe Hogeboom, Maple Grove's director of community and economic development. A marketing push before the winter holidays in 2020 resulted in increased foot traffic at both Main Street and Shoppes at Arbor Lakes.

In both 2020 and this year, Excelsior's downtown businesses have experienced a rise in sales, Mayor Todd Carlson said. Along with an outdoor summer concert series, the city combined its Apple Day and Art on the Lake events this year, leading to better-than-expected attendance that helped some businesses "have some of their best weekends ever," he said.

The increase in transactions is generating more sales tax revenue for Excelsior, helping the city fund improvements, Carlson said. Some of that extra revenue went toward constructing a new pavilion and additional infrastructure in town, he said.

"We don't get a lot of state money so sales tax revenue helps," he said.

Anecdotally, downtown Rosemount businesses have seen elevated demand as more residents shopped and dined locally during the pandemic, said Eric Van Oss, the southern suburb's economic development coordinator. None of the city's businesses closed during that last year and a half.

In southeast Woodbury, all of the city's major commercial properties have reported quality leasing activity and foot traffic, said Eric Searles, Woodbury's city planner. Also one of the most active homebuilding communities in the Twin Cities, Woodbury's growing list of shopping options for residents helps sustain the city's growth.

"All of our uses are interconnected," Searles said. "Residential housing is connected to retail viability and success as well as office viability and success. On the flip side, our success of our residential market is due to our presence and depth of our commercial and office segment."