Gift Cards and Cargo Bikes
Selling through the shutdown
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the April, 2020 issue
This article from the April 2020 Ann Arbor Observer includes a partial list of retail businesses responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. Please post comments (button at end) to share updates and additional resources.
"I'm a history buff, and to my way of thinking, we're entering into a time period that looks and sounds a lot like World War II, when everyone had a common cause, a common goal, a common threat, and common worries," says Ed Davidson, owner of Bivouac on State St. (bivouacannarbor.com 734-761-6207). "Now is the time to draw together as a community and work for the common good."
"I wasn't around when our business struggled through the Depression and endured World War II," says Bill Godfrey, whose family has owned Van Boven men's wear for ninety-nine years (vanboven.com, 734-665-7228). "But this feels like it must be a similar challenge financially and socially." Van Boven closed in March for what Godfrey hoped would be just a couple of weeks but is "relying on our customers and our community to remember us and to work with us during the coming weeks and months."
In a heartfelt letter to her community, Molly Mast-Koss explained why she is keeping seventy-eight-year-old Mast Shoes (mastshoes.com, 734-662-8118) in operation - even though the doors are closed. "You will play a key role in keeping our local economy healthy in the coming weeks and months," she wrote. "Now is the time to support local businesses by making as many purchases as possible from them--ours and/or others in Washtenaw County ... I am driving shoes to our customers' doors the same day you call and order them. All of us are practicing stringent health and safety guidelines. A few minutes speaking on the phone with an employee (and fellow member of your community) at one of our local shops will be good for you, good for them, and good for Ann Arbor's chances of making it through
this crisis intact."
"The coming weeks--or months--are going to be a struggle," notes Scott Hirth, whose father cofounded the M Den athletic apparel chain in 1978 (mden.com, 800-462-5836). "We all have to do our best to stay in business and help support our fellow businesspeople."
Like just about every retailer, Hirth is promoting online sales, offering free shipping as well as curbside pickup and same-day delivery to nearby addresses. He estimates that the M-Den's seven locations employ between 160 and 180 people. "Everyone, as of right now, will keep their jobs. None will be impacted," Hirth says. "But time will tell what measures will be forced upon us."
Like Van Boven, Bivouac closed its doors temporarily in mid-March. That same day, Davidson sent an urgent message to other members of the State Street District. At a socially distanced meeting outside Sava's, they discussed strategies for surviving the health and economic crises. Their ad on p. 12 echoes Molly Mast-Koss: shop local and remain loyal to businesses that serve the community.
"It is critically important that people support local businesses at this time," says Davidson. "Otherwise they'll start to disappear." In addition to shopping online, he's encouraging people to buy gift cards. "During the world wars, people bought war bonds to support the war effort and redeemed them afterwards," he points out. "If our customers buy our gift cards, they'll infuse cash into a perilous situation many of us face, and they'll help keep us going."
For those people who are or will become homebound, libraries and bookstores hope they'll open a book or listen to audible books. The Ann Arbor District Library's branches have all closed, but they are rolling out virtual programming for their patrons. The staff will begin live streaming programs from their homes, including story times and kids' crafts, as well as adult programs such as trivia games and book discussions. Its popular online summer game--rebooted as Bummer Game--is now live. Meanwhile, like downtown businesses, the libraries are maintaining their physical distance--including asking patrons not to return books, CDs, or DVDs until further notice--in the interest of keeping Covid-19 at bay.
Literati (literati.com, 734-585-5567) has closed its bookshop but not its shelves. The parents of young children, Mike and Hilary Gustafson were one of the earliest businesses to make the decision to close their doors. On March 13, they announced they would continue selling books by phone or online orders and would charge only $1 to ship them. Within three days they were flooded with more than 800 online orders.
"We are so, so grateful for your support so far. This helps us keep going," the Gustafsons posted online. "We are working hard. Thank you for your patience and for giving us a fighting chance. We are grateful to be in this community of book lovers."
The Gustafsons have requested that the best support their friends can offer is to order books that say "on our shelves now"--books in their current inventory--as much as possible. In addition to pickup and mail order, they're making local deliveries by e-assist cargo bike, on loan from Human Electric Hybrids in Kerrytown. HEH owners Jim Summers and Kim Mayes also have loaners out to Kerrytown's Spun yarn shop and the Detroit Street Filling Station restaurant and have more available to local businesses that can use them (human-electric-hybrids.com, 734-929-5995).
Nicola's Books (nicolasbooks.com, 734-662-0600) canceled all events, including the weekly kids story times and book clubs through the end of April. The store remains open, however. "We continue to follow State of Michigan guidelines for safe gatherings and are following recommended social distancing practices and cleaning protocols to maintain a safe place for our staff, customers and community," they emailed on March 19. "We plan to be here for you as long as it's deemed safe for our staff, customers, and community." They're also offering free media mail shipping on web orders and curbside pickup.
"We're lucky. We don't have perishable merchandise to worry about. But we are reeling with the sudden urgency to change everything about our business overnight," says Pete Sickman-Garner, co-owner of Spun in Kerrytown (spunannarbor.com, 734-780-7867). He and his wife, Carol, officially closed Spun's doors the week of March 16, but they can be found in the shop between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., every day for customers who want to drop by quickly for yarn or to ask questions about knitting. Otherwise, they answer the phone, process orders, and work with a friend who has volunteered to help them launch a website and online business presence. Within three days of Spun's closing, customers had submitted fifteen orders--which had previously been a month's worth. "We're very grateful," Sickman-Garner says. "Our customers have been very supportive." One customer called to ask how they were doing then purchased a very large gift card, ensuring the business would have cash to work with.
"Closing shop wasn't a hard decision. It was so obviously the right thing to do, yet the picture for the future is very scary," he says. "No one knows what will happen. We have two young children at home, so we'll be dealing with online education as well as financial concerns. My father is eighty-five and lives around the corner from us--we're not going over there, but he is still a concern of ours. We're being ultra cautious with our customers, our family, and our staff. As long as we all stay healthy and people can afford our merchandise, we'll be good."
Like many other downtown businesses, Rock Paper Scissors (rockpaperscissorsshop.com, 734-531-6264) is offering free shipping as well as curbside pick-up. Roeda Studio (roedastudio.com, 734-994-3389) and WSG Gallery (wsg-art.com) also are urging customers to shop online.
Mary Cambruzzi, owner of Found in Kerrytown, is striving to see the silver lining under the dark economic cloud. "FOUND is closed for a bit to do our part to #flattenthecurve," she reports. "In the meantime, here are some things we are doing: Owner and staff are looking at creative uses of time during closure with behind-the-scenes tasks that have been on our to-do list for some time. Organizing stockroom, files, and warehouse. Web updates, writing, bookwork, and planning fun events for when this ends." She adds, "If folks need a Found fix, our Instagram site, @foundgallery, Facebook, and website will provide options for shipping or local delivery.
[Originally published in April, 2020.]
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