Not All Local Retailers Are Eager to Reopen Immediately
The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered many businesses across the country. In Ohio, non-grocery retailers were allowed to resume business operations on Tuesday, May 12, but not every business jumped on board immediately. Some chose delay their openings by a couple of days, while others have yet to announce re-opening plans at all.
“While this a personal decision every business owner is making for their business, it’s also one that impacts our entire local community,” stated Olivera Bratich, owner of Wild Cat Gift & Party in Clintonville. “I believe that the decision to begin opening up the state in mid-May is one based on political and economic concerns and not a decision made with public health as the priority.”
Two side-by-side businesses on Grandview Avenue are also following suit: Peabody Papers and Cubshrub.
“I just can’t find a way to feel okay about reopening now if we were uncomfortable with being open in mid-March,” stated Josh Quinn, co-owner of Cubshrub. “This is the right choice for us, but I won’t pretend to know anyone else’s circumstances or operations so I am not passing judgment on anyone. It’s just such a complicated time because I am absolutely doing what I think is right, but I don’t necessarily think the people that are opening are wrong.”
Quinn, who also co-owns Tigertree in the Short North with his wife Niki, wants to see stronger safety guidelines at the federal level and increased testing.
“Frankly, we need a federal mask mandate, but at the very least we need one at the state or city level and it needs to extend to all public places, not just retail,” he stated. “We should be making it a badge of pride and patriotism in the way we did with victory gardens, fuel rationing or recycling tin cans during World War II. It’s the smallest most insignificant thing you can do to potentially save the lives of other people in your community. It’s sad and frightening to me that anyone would be hostile to that fact.”
Lynn Longbrake of Peabody Papers shares similar concerns about a shared responsibility to not contributing to the infection spreading throughout the community.
“I cannot use disinfectant sprays on my product, I cannot take temperatures and screen every customer that wants to shop and I cannot control or prevent customers from touching products and surfaces and potentially exposing the next customer that walks through the door,” she explained. “My fear is that I can’t keep the store safe enough for my customers.”
While the brick-and-mortar locations remain closed at these four stores, each of the owners have shifted their focus to online sales, appointment-based shopping and other alternative revenue streams.
“I am still taking one or two in-person appointments per week for wedding and event invitations, and I am open to allowing people to shop privately,” said Longbrake. “Those are much more easily controlled situations and I feel more confident in my ability to properly sanitize after an appointment.”
Wild Cat, Cubshrub and Tigertree are all offering various forms of online shopping with delivery or pickup options available.
“We never really thought we could translate our business to eCommerce, but this crisis has accelerated what was already happening in retail,” said Quinn. “You’ve got to meet the customers where they are, and for most people, I believe, for the next 12-18 months that’s online and on social.”
Longbrake said that she is waiting a few weeks to see how the the infection rates change, while Quinn stated that he would love to be open by June if the situation improves.
“The science-based answer to when things should start reopening was after two weeks of declining infection rates,” added Bratich. “I will definitely not be opening before then. I’d love to say June, but none of us know what June is going to look like. I’m hopeful we’ll be back this summer because I’m hopeful that we as a community will be in a safer place by then.”
Instead of scrambling to re-open quickly, Quinn says that this is a good time for retailers to take a step back and look for ways to improve and “future-proof” their businesses.
“How do you make in-store pickup feel more like the in-store experience your customers love? How do you make your emails feel more personalized? How do you make your Instagram presence better mimic your physical customer service experience?” asked Quinn. “You might give up a bit of cashflow for the next few weeks or months but you’ll be better positioned for where the industry is heading for the next few years.”
Bratich has some similar advice for small business owners.
“Big companies are going to open the first chance they get because wage workers are expendable and they will always put profits over people,” she staid. “Small businesses have the chance to do better.”