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.
Pauline Montupet, Le Point
First reaction to Mayor Breed's announcement that retail could open for curbside pickup?
"I had heard that was the next step —so I had already been thinking about it. Since we have an online store, curbside pickup isn't much of a change in terms of operations. To say that businesses can 'open' is a little misleading. They can open for curbside pickup but for my kind of shop, where people tend to browse and try things on, we won't truly be open until people can come in and do that. Essentially, we'll be an online store that has a pickup option in SF. Our windows and doors are boarded up to prevent theft and will remain so until we can actually welcome customers through our doors. To staff and have my shop 'open' but not be able to have customers inside is really not much of a step forward."
Do you think the time is right for this gradual opening?
"It seems a little premature. I am all for moving forward and reopening the economy—but are people really going to be out shopping when they are also being told to stay home, work from home and keep their kids out of school? It seems like conflicting information."
Do you plan to open this week?
"We will be adding two curbside pickup times on Monday and Thursday afternoons from 2pm to 4pm. We have our inventory online and have been operating our online store, but those pickup windows would offer a time for our local customers to pickup items instead of us shipping them."
Have you been offering any special deals to spur shopping during this time?
"We have been doing continuous discount promos and small gifts with purchase at our online store, and there'll be more to come. Currently for online shoppers, we're offering free (standard) shipping for orders $25+."
Have you changed up your merch mix to make it more "stay at home" friendly?
"A little bit. Due to the nature of clothing productions and orders, most of our clothing inventory orders had been placed months ago. We did place restock orders with many of our apothecary brands like candles, face oils, etc., as well as home goods like puzzles and playing cards."
What kinds of things do you have to do to meet the guidelines?
"When we can open beyond curbside, I think we will have 'by appointment only' for a period of time—that way, we can steam any clothing that has been tried on, as well as sanitize the shop. I also don't think that people will be up for browsing and shopping the way they used to for a long time. It's very costly to staff the shop for our full opening hours if customers still feel unsure about coming in."
Has there been any point during the pandemic where you thought you may have to permanently shutter your brick-and-mortar?
"Yes…I think it is going to be a very long time before people feel comfortable cruising around and browsing retail stores like they used too."
How has local support been from customers and fellow store owners?
"Right from the start, we have had some really wonderful customers placing orders and buying items that they probably didn't have any place to wear while sheltering at home. It's been really inspiring seeing all the small shops like mine pivot and get creative with the way they are doing photo shoots and how they are merchandising and creating content on social media. I even joined TikTok just to get myself out there more and have fun styling new arrivals."
What are your hopes for your business as we move forward?
"I think that the fashion industry as a whole has a really weird calendar that needs to be adjusted and addressed. Why are we receiving fall clothing in August when it's still hot and then putting it on sale at peak winter time in December?"
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