How our community businesses are staying safe, staying open and adapting in the age of Coronavirus
Our local small businesses have never needed our support more than they do now. Hit hard by the effects of the Coronavirus, they are scrambling to hold on — and build back up. And they are thinking outside the box to try to adapt to a new economic landscape, trying new services and products. Even as businesses realize the long road to recovery they have ahead of them, some are discovering strengths and a sense of value they never knew they had.
We asked some of our local businesses to tell us how they’re doing, how they’re adapting to save their businesses, and what they see for the future. Their answers have one thing in common. All expressed their appreciation for the support the community has given them, and their desire to use their resources and skills to support the community in turn.
Carter & Spence
For us just to survive right now we’ve really had to push ourselves. I think what we’ve all seen is that we’ve been forced toward electronic communication to find ways to adapt. A lot of us have been resisting it; the leap to an online platform is daunting for some small businesses. We’re looking into moving into the Shopify platform, because going forward what we’ve seen is that we do have the ability to reach people without having them walk in our door.
What has been the best thing for us has been instagram, which we’ve ramped up recently. We’ve taken it to a more dynamic level, and customers are responding. It’s been generating sales, and it has been a substitute way for us to maintain our ties to our customers and be part of the community. For the first time, we’re really starting to see a return on the creative investment we put into instagram. It will continue to be a good tool for us even when things are back to normal.
Our local businesses have really stepped up. My hope is that the future is truly local and our economic resilience and the ability to weather future storms like this is going to build the more we invest in it.
We’ve always done a good take out business, so while sales are off a little, people have been very supportive of us. I’m very blessed by that. We haven’t had to lay anybody off, although employees are working less hours. People are still coming in, and they’re buying gift cards for their friends. We had a customer buy $250 worth of gift cards and then donate them to local hospital staff. We’re also learning from this experience as we try new ways to adapt. People have been very responsive to the delivery option, so that could continue to be a really good option for us to keep in the future. Social media has been really important during this time because people are engaging more with our posts, and it enables us to let people know that we’re still out here and open.
The Bike Stop
We are still open, following health guidelines. If people aren’t comfortable coming into the store, we go out to the street to them. The community has been great in supporting us, and they’re so appreciative that we’ve stayed open. Biking is one of the sports that can be well adapted to social distancing, and it’s also really good for your mental health. In one way, we’ve even picked up a couple sales during this time. A woman called me and said, “I’ve got three men stuck in the house with me, I’m sending them up there to buy bikes from you. I want them the hell out of my house.”
The Open Book
I closed the retail store right away, for the safety of my customers and staff. We’ve always had an online store, but now it’s the primary way I do business. We’re still doing good volume, but it’s a very labor intensive way to operate. The addition of local delivery has enabled me to keep most of my staff on. I can very safely hand off a box of books to them to deliver to doorsteps, so it’s a safe way for them to still work but remain healthy.
Social media has remained a primary way to interact with customers, and I just sent out my first newsletter and blog post. We’re working toward a virtual book club on zoom.
The community has been extremely supportive. I’ve just been really grateful and amazed. I thought we were going down. We have multiple customers who said they would order a book a month to try to keep us here, and now they’re ordering every week. Our landlord has been very flexible and generous about the rent. There’s a lot to be grateful for. I am very hopeful.
Needles in the Haymarket
My sales are definitely down from last year. We’re essentially open by appointment only, and we’re taking orders by phone more than we used to. We’ve also used FaceTime, What’sapp, and Skype to communicate with customers. Our customers are really supporting us by continuing to purchase from us and also recommending us to others by sharing on social media. So we’ve actually been doing some sales across the country, which is really interesting and opens possibilities for the future.
The community’s desire to support our local front line workers has really helped us. That has taken us from being 90% down to only 60% down. People can donate the cost of a meal ($7.50) toward this purpose, either online or in store. The ticket prints out in our kitchen, and we collect them until we have enough to provide meals for a whole department or a part of an organization, then we make and deliver them. The response has been overwhelming. We’ve done the Police Department, the Fire Department, a couple different hospices and nursing homes. Last week we served the entire staff, top to bottom, all shifts, lunch and dinner, at Fauquier Health. Social media plays a huge role in this; every time we deliver meals we post on Facebook. The more people see it, the more people come on board and donate. Sharing the posts makes it spread, and it becomes a snowball effect.
Warrenton Farmers Market
Last week was our first drive-thru farmers market. The town council has encouraged me to be as innovative as possible to adapt to the current situation, which gave me the freedom to try it out. The goal was to find a way to balance all the aspects the market brings to the community: access to nutritional food and supporting the local farmers. It worked fantastically; we had 350 customers come through.
I think what really clicked for me was when people started to say to me, “Thank you so much, it’s so nice to get out and just see the vendors that we love, even if we just wave from our vehicles.” Everyone was smiling, everybody was patient, everyone was happy. It worked because the community supported it and the community was patient enough. There was no honking, no agitation, everyone was just happy to see each other. We got the same appreciation from the farmers, some of whom sold out their inventory.
We encourage pre-ordering for the market as much as possible, to help things keep running smoothly. Some of the farmers are at a disadvantage because they don’t have access to the internet in the rural areas and don’t have websites. But they are happy to take orders by phone. We’ve created a page on the town website with all the vendors’ contact information to facilitate pre-ordering: http://www.warrentonva.gov/community/farmers_market.php
As much as possible, we’re going to keep holding the market every week, but it will continue to evolve as the health directives change.
Amber and Andrea Ferrero
We’ve had to make some changes to continue to operate, including cutting our hours, adjusting our menu and creating some new meal ideas. We’ve also started cooking tutorials on our Facebook page.
The community has responded really well — the phone doesn’t stop ringing, and sometimes we have a line of cars waiting for pickup.
Many people and groups in the community have been generously donating money for meals for local first responders and medical staff.
We have had to lay off three of our employees, so we are operating with the two of us and one employee. We are also doing in two hours what we usually do in six. It’s a lot of work and it’s very intense, but we’ve learned that we are able to pull it off. We are stronger than we realized. Everyone has really been super supportive of us, and that makes us really happy. We’re glad to be here for the community.
Details for the Home
Our local customers are definitely supporting us, usually using in store or curbside pickup or our free local delivery service. But this crisis showed me how important an online presence and online sales capability are. It’s kind of forced me to develop a website and an online store, which we launched three weeks ago, and it’s just awesome. Every day we add more items to the site, and this will continue to be useful after the crisis has passed.
Our sales are down about 58% since the quarantine went into effect. Major events like horse shows, conferences, trade shows, educational programs, sporting events, etc. which need items printed have all been postponed or canceled.
We have adapted our shop to produce Safe Shields, clear protective guards for grocery stores and other establishments where person to person contact is essential to conduct business. They have been selling well, with customers as far as Richmond.
We are keeping our employees on at 80% of their regular hours (32 per week) while Holly and I are not taking paychecks. We appreciate the sacrifice our staff members have made. My heart goes out to every person trying to run a business and keep their employees paid, for everyone on the front line in the fight against Coronavirus, and to those families that have lost loved ones.
Great Harvest Bread Company
Initially at the start of this quarantine, we had a sharp drop in patronage, and then the removal of our inside seating. It looked pretty grim. But then, on March 17 at 10 a.m., I had an epiphany. A customer in my store was venting to me about the scarcity of bread due to people hoarding it, and the grocery store shelves were empty. It really came home to me then, the concept that I can make bread in almost unlimited quantities, and our community needed it. The next day I made 500 loaves of bread. After some phone calls and Facebook posts, we received the first of many donations to be used for baking for the food bank. The concept grew, and with generous donations we are now making $3,000-$4,000 of bread a week for six area food banks, which accounts for at least a third of our production. I have used 20 pounds of yeast in 24 hours. I am one of the few businesses that has benefitted ultimately from the pandemic, it has increased awareness of our product and our services. We are proud to be there for our community during a crisis and we stepped in and provided a product that is valuable and essential when the grocery stores couldn’t keep up. Our sense of the value of our product and mission has increased, and inspired us.