In recent weeks, multiple local retailers, from Oyster House Antiques to Angelo Jewelers, have been forced to shut their doors due to Virginia’s stay-at-home order. But others are adopting contactless business models, and customers are still streaming in.
Shenanigans Toys & Games, on West Main Street, has made the transition to online shopping. Customers can peruse items on the store’s website, then place their orders online, over the phone, or through social media. To encourage people to shop locally, the store offers free delivery for Charlottesville and Albemarle County residents, and contactless curbside pick-up for all customers, says owner Amanda Stevens.
“There’s an expense to offering free delivery, and that’s something that I’m taking on in an effort to keep my customers with me [and] get by,” says Stevens. The store’s seen a rise in sales of puzzles, arts and crafts, games, and outdoor toys. Stevens also hasn’t had to lay off any employees—instead, she’s hired several more to help with deliveries.
“I’m blown away by the community support,” she says. “I’m so thankful to be a small business in Charlottesville, where people care about trying to make sure that we’re here when this is all said and done.”
Longtime sportswear staple Mincer’s, at The Shops at Stonefield and on the Corner, has also gone online, and offers free shipping for customers who spend $10 or more. For those who live within a couple hundred miles of the store, purchases generally arrive in a day, says owner Mark Mincer.
Unfortunately, the store laid off some of its staff, because business has had “a huge drop off from what we normally do,” says Mincer. The handful of people currently on staff make sure to stay in separate rooms, as they work on shipping orders, among other daily tasks. Like Shenanigans, Mincer’s has seen a big uptick in jigsaw puzzle orders, and is now sold out until next month.
“It’s not going great. It’s not going terribly. But it’s going,” says Mincer. “I think things are going to get better at some point…we are trying to get one of those PPP loans from the government to try to help pay the hourly employees, especially the one who are not able to work.”
“There’s [also] been some talk about possibly delaying the collection of sales tax, payroll tax, or income tax,” he adds. “If any of those due dates are postponed…it’ll definitely help.”
While relying mainly on website and phone orders, The Happy Cook, in Barracks Road Shopping Center, is allowing customers to make in-store purchases, but in a limited capacity.
“We are allowing ourselves to be open for intentional shopping. If people call in advance and know exactly what they’re looking for, they [can] come in, make sure that is what they want, pay, and leave, so that we aren’t having interaction with them,” says owner Monique Moshier. “We’re normally seeing…in total for a day, maybe 10 people [do this].”
For customers who don’t need to come into the store, The Happy Cook offers curbside pick-up, and free delivery for those within a 15 miles radius. It also posts no-cost daily cooking tutorials on Facebook, and streams one to two hour-long cooking classes per week with a professional chef ($20 per Zoom account).
“From a business perspective, it’s just challenging all around…the revenue is sustainably diminished from a regular day. Every transaction probably takes three to four times more work than it used to,” says Moshier. “But it really has been so encouraging to feel like the Charlottesville community is recognizing that, and is really trying to get behind [local businesses]…customers are going out of their way to be like ‘Hey, I don’t necessarily need this today, but I’m not affected by this financially, so I am buying these things because I want to support you.’”
In order for area retailers to survive this difficult time, residents need to shop local as much as possible, not just now but long after the epidemic is over, says Elizabeth Cromwell, CEO of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has been working to provide the business community with information on loans, grants, and other forms of relief.
“Everybody should look at a local organization first and see if they can fulfill your request,” says Cromwell. “And as major organizations like UVA, the city, and the county reopen in the coming months, we are certainly going to be advocating that [everyone] make a very specific effort to buy local wherever possible.”
Even when you aren’t able to get what you need from an area business, “leave a review for somewhere you have shopped with on Google, Yelp, or any social media platform,” adds Stevens. “Those reviews go such a long way.”
Correction 4/16: The original version of this story inaccurately stated that business at Shenanigans Toys & Games has been “booming.” While the store has seen a rise in sales for certain items, sales are down overall, and it is struggling with the added expenses of free delivery.
To see who’s open and what they’re offering, check out these lists from the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce.