A change to Gov. Tim Walz’s “Stay at Home” order went into affect Monday, enabling local retailers to sell their products via curbside pickup. Small local businesses say the order is likely to boost their sales, but only slightly.
Nicole Winter of Urban Loft Boutique said that her sales have been cut by 85% to 90% since the Stay at Home Order was first issued. Winter’s store, located in downtown Owatonna, offers accessories, clothing and home decor items.
Winter owned several area businesses before opening up her latest venture in 2018. Before the pandemic hit, she had seen strong sales growth and felt economically secure enough to hire several part time staff.
Now, any and all expansion plans have been called off for at least the next year or two, she said. Winter even stopped buying new goods shortly after the Stay at Home order was enacted, helping her to avoid significant financial loss.
Winter has tried to boost online sales, though they only comprised a small share of her sales to begin with. However, by posting photos of items on both her website and Facebook page, she’s been able to help customers who would normally want to see items in person before buying. Curbside pickup doesn’t provide additional help for customers, Winter said, since they still have to purchase their product in advance. But it adds a layer of convenience, and she’s hopeful it will help to boost her sales.
“This has been a challenge,” she acknowledged. “But we’re trying our best to make it work.”
Winter said that even if restrictions continue to be relaxed, she’s concerned about what the future holds from both an economic and public health standpoint. Even once the pandemic begins to lift, she noted that the economic damage is likely to be felt for years to come.
Like Urban Loft, Faribault’s Star Sports and Apparel has reverted to being a one-person shop since the Stay at Home Order went into effect. Normally aided by three assistants, Star Sports and Apparel owner Heather Vavra has had to fulfill orders all on her own. Star Sports and Apparel offers sports equipment, custom embroidered and personalized trophies. While its store is of course closed, the company is continuing to take orders online and can be reached by phone during normal business hours.
While the company is doing its best to make do, Vavra said that it’s normally heavily reliant on in person customers visiting its store. Like Urban Loft, Star does have an online gallery to give potential customers a sense of its products.
Still, the company has seen a large decrease in demand without its regular in-store clientele of browsers looking for just the right gift for a friend or family member. Vavra said she hopes that curbside pickup will help to relieve that, and urged people to shop local during this difficult time.
“It’s great when people continue to support local,” she said. “It helps keep our community alive.”