We can’t say that COVID is in the past yet (our shop still requires employees to be masked), but hopefully the worst of it is behind us. Now seems like a good time to look back on the past 2 ½ years to see what we’ve learned.

When a government official recently asked my fellow merchant Michelle Waldeck what the main lesson was for her, she immediately answered “It’s all about the people.” The thought of closing Monroe Street Framing and laying off all her long-time employees still brings her to tears.  The uncertainty of those early months, when we didn’t know if our shops would reopen, and whether our staff would ever have place to work again, has left us all with some emotional scars. 

The next lesson would have to revolve around the word “pivot” (bad pun).  Our store didn’t have a shoppable website when the pandemic hit, in part because we didn’t want to deal with shipping online orders. But the option of curbside pickup meant that we could sell merchandise online without having to pack and weigh it – so we spent many weeks frantically uploading products to our site.  Although we’re doing very little curbside or even BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) sales now, our web presence is much stronger than it was pre-pandemic.

Our customers’ demonstration of their loyalty is something we’ll always treasure. They wanted us to survive, and I’m sure that some of those early curbside orders were for whatever they could find in our online offerings to keep us going.  We sold many gift cards that may never be redeemed as our dear customers tried to support us however they could.  Knowing that our customers stayed with us during the long period of limited admittance to the store, and mandatory masking, reinforces our confidence that what we do is valuable.

Cooperation was also a highlight of the early months of COVID. Another business on our street offered to do deliveries for us, and one pitched in to sell our merchandise because they were considered “essential” and could be open when we weren’t. Shops in other parts of our city reached out to help us as well, and that spirit of cooperation rather than competition continues.

Government support through PPP funding, unemployment compensation and local grants made a big difference in our ability to survive the pandemic. Aside from an SBA loan decades ago, we hadn’t had much reason to think of our state and federal government as an ally, but in 2020 and 2021 these entities were there for us.

Gratitude is a two-way street: we continue to feel grateful for those who stood by us and supported us. We also hold gratitude in our hearts for those who worked at the front lines to keep us safe during this scary time, and to the vendors who did their best to keep merchandise coming our way despite the challenges they were facing. We welcome those sales agencies, suppliers and sales reps who were part of our survival to be part of our recovery now that customers are returning enthusiastically to the in-person shopping experience.

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder