Turns out local clothing, beauty, and accessories shops don't have a one-size-fits-all approach to Phase 2 of the reopening process.
After two months of being closed per the city's first stay-at-home order, certain "non-essential" store owners are happy to open up. Some are just not ready. And others, frankly, don't see the point in opening strictly for curbside pickup. Mixed feelings about the retail guidelines aside, everyone agrees that today's move is but a baby step. (Still, we'll take it.)
Not gonna lie: Last Wednesday when I saw online that Mayor Breed announced San Francisco retail businesses—including shops beyond the previously cited florists, game and hobby shops, and record and bookstores—would soon be given the OK to reopen, I got a head rush. Immediately, visions of a camo-masked me making the rounds at my favorite boutiques on Fillmore (Nest), Hayes (Azalea), and Valencia (Voyager) flashed in my brain. Then I kept reading.
Wait, what exactly does "open for curbside pickup and delivery" mean vis-à-vis shopping? Is the mayor saying I can't actually go into any stores but I have to procure those much-needed tie-dye sweatshirts, candles and lounge pants the same way I've been getting my pizza, fried chicken, and bento-boxes…by ordering online for takeout only?
Yep, that's precisely what she's saying.
More detailed guidelines, spelling out what local stores have to do in order to open, were released from The Office of the Mayor on Thursday, May 14th. "Allowing retail to operate storefront pickup is a great step for our small businesses, which have been struggling since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses that will be allowed to open next week won't be able to operate like they used to, but this hopefully offers a measure of support," Breed says.
Guidelines at a Glance
The first thing to know: The new retail guidelines apply only to businesses whose storefronts connect to the street (sorry, Westfield SF Centre). According to Breed, this includes about 95 percent of all retailers in the city.
Additionally, previous rules to stay home except for essential needs and approved activities continue. Translation: These guidelines are N-O-T a license to shop or browse with abandon. Social distancing rules and wearing masks/face coverings while queuing up or inside businesses are also required, for both customers and store employees.
Plus, in order to reopen, stores must meet these conditions:
- Customers may not enter the store: only storefront, curbside, or outside pickup are allowed.
- No more than 10 employees may be on site at once to handle curbside pickup.
- Stores must have clear access to a sidewalk, street, parking lot, or alley to handle curbside pickup.
Indeed, Monday's curbside reopening can't come soon enough for the city's small businesses, according to Vas Kiniris, executive director of the Fillmore Merchants Association: "It's a Band-Aid, but the point is we have to slowly start opening the economy."
"With COVID-19, there's a new level of uncertainty that's affecting all our merchants and they're rethinking their business models. On Fillmore alone, the 150-year-old Frye Boots has decided to close. Also, mom-and-pop business Asmbly Hall is closing its Fillmore location," he adds.
What say you, SF shops?
As soon as we learned about (and processed) the reopening news, we reached out to several beloved SF shop owners for their take. Of course, our main question was regarding curbside pickup: yay or nay? We also checked in to see how some businesses have been holding up since the coronavirus came to town and, ya know, upended everything.
With answers as varied as the stuff that lines their shelves, we thought it best to let our friends speak for themselves. Scroll thought our slideshow to hear from: Jessica Lee, Colleen Mauer, Emily Holt, Linda Fahey, Isobel Schofield, Kiya Babzani, Basil Racuk, Pauline Montupet, and Debra Dobras.
Linda Fahey, Yonder Shop + Studio
Do you plan to open this week?
"Opening is a difficult thing when you cannot let customers in the store. Small shops like mine have usually been all about the customer experience, so it's been an interesting experience navigating and planning for the future. I will be offering pickup and delivery—I wear a mask when I'm at the shop at all times, and clean all common surfaces upon arrival and when leaving."
Have you been offering any special deals to spur shopping during this time?
"I've lowered my prices on my work across the board, and I offer free delivery! We'll also probably have some promotions as time goes on."
Have you been preparing for reopening?
"Yes, I have been thinking about how to reinvent the shopping experience. I had already started doing FaceTime private shopping calls with customers for pickup and delivery, just prior to Mothers Day. It worked well for me and I will be continuing."
Have you changed up your merch mix to make it more "stay at home" friendly?
"Yonder has always focused on tabletop and ceramics, and since folks are cooking more than ever, I feel we offer some timely and unique wares."
Are your employees ready and willing to get back to work?
"I've lost my employee and since I've not received any grants, or stimulus money, I'm working the shop myself."
Generally, how has your business been doing since the first Stay Home order?
"We closed early on March 8th and cancelled our on-site classes two weeks before that. I've been severely impacted and since I can no longer offer classes on-site, there have been a lot of adjustments across all aspects of the business. We're figuring it out!"
Were you prepared with an online shopping site or did you have to scramble to put something together?
"I have not had a strong online shop since I opened in 2013, as I've always preferred personal customer service and interaction with people coming in the shop. I will work over the next two months to migrate more offerings online. With no help and resources, it's been slow going—but still adjusting and putting new plans in place."
Has there been any point during the pandemic where you thought you may have to permanently shutter your brick-and-mortar?
"I knew I could last for a period of time and allow myself some time to assess the situation. We know more, but we are all facing so many unknowns—it's still a very real possibility. I will have to see how the next two to four months go. I'm planning in two-month periods at this stage."
How has local support been from customers and fellow store owners?
"My regular customers have been great, my neighborhood too. And there have been a lot of people buying gift cards, which is all I could offer for a while. (Those first weeks of gift card sales saved my ass!) I'm so grateful for the support. That's why I really love doing the FaceTime calls…I get to see customers' faces, say hi and have a chat! It means so much more than just an online sale."
What are your hopes for your business as we move forward?
"My goal is to reinvent retail for small lifestyle shops that count on in-store shopping experiences. I hope people will be excited about it and still frequent small shops rather than ordering online from sites. It's much more personal and a great way to shop. For my classes and the studio work, I am less sure what that will look like moving forward. I'm hoping it can translate to online Zoom classes but that will take time to launch and perfect!
Please support these and all your favorite local stores. Buying gift cards for future services, products, and even just checking in to say hi can do a world of good in these precarious times. #7x7shopslocal