LACONIA — After being closed for six weeks, some local retailers are spending this week getting ready to reopen their doors.
Gov. Chris Sununu last Friday announced a phased plan for areas of the state’s economy to reopen, including retail establishments which can allow customers into stores starting Monday, provided they follow certain precautions.
“We’re excited to do it,” said David Ayers who, along with his wife, Nicole, owns Little Dog Paper Company on Main Street in Meredith. “But we’re going to take every precaution,” in order to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Most retail stores across the state have been closed to the public since March 28, the day after Sununu issued his first stay-at-home order that shuttered all non-essential businesses.
Little Dog will reopen on Tuesday, since the store is normally closed on Mondays, Ayers explained.
Melissa McCarthy, co-owner of The Studio on Main Street in Laconia, is planning to reopen her doors next Friday.
“I need to take the time to make sure it’s safe for my customers and me,” she said, explaining why the reopening will occur four days later than what is permitted.
McCarthy wants to get a glass top for her counter that will be easier to keep clean than the countertop she has now. In addition, she needs to install a plexiglass shield at the checkout. And she’s hoping to purchase some hand sanitizer for use both by her customers and herself. “It’s hard to come by,” she said.
Karmen Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, has been helping local businesses locate the protective equipment they will need — mainly face masks and cleaning supplies.
Gifford said the state has enough disposable face masks to distribute them to businesses which need them. Businesses can obtain the masks by going to the website of the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, she said. She acknowledged that finding sanitizing gel is still a challenge.
Innisfree Bookshop in Mill Falls Marketplace in Meredith will be reopening Monday, but owner Casey Gerken said Wednesday she has yet to decide the store’s hours.
For Gerken, one question is how much customer traffic there will be initially. Will it be heavy because people can finally get out and go to stores other than supermarkets? Or will business be slow because people may still be apprehensive about spending too much time in public since the effects of the pandemic are continuing.
“Without knowing what kind of traffic, it’s a little hard to plan,” said Gerken, who has owned Innisfree for nearly three years.
The Tanger Outlet Center in Tilton will start opening incrementally on Monday, according to manager Eric Proulx. Most of the 50 stores have been closed since the since the initial stay-at-home order.
“While Tanger Tilton is currently open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, individual retailer store hours will continue to vary during this period of phased reopenings. We encourage shoppers to check with individual retailers before planning a visit. The official store reopening “Welcome Back” event will be (Monday),” Proulx said in an email.
“Additionally, we are currently working with (stores) to assist in their reopening plans, including designated central areas for curbside pickup,” he said.
Innisfree, like Little Dog and The Studio, have continued doing business during the shutdown through online sales, curbside pickup, and concierge personal shopping service.
Innisfree already had an e-tail presence before the COVID-19 crisis.
“Our web sales went up 200 percent,” Gerken said.
That was one bright spot is what Gerken described as a “kind of depressing” April in which sales overall were down between 50 and 75 percent from the year before.
She is confident that the store will be able to offer its customers a safe environment in which to shop. She and the other employees will be wearing face masks. A plexiglass shield has been ordered for the cash wrap. And there is plenty of sanitizer on hand. In addition, Gerken said the store will be cleaned “from top to bottom” at the end of each day.
Given past shopper habits, Gerken does not expect Innisfree will have any problems in meeting the social distancing guidelines.
However, Ayers said that because Little Dog, which sells custom greeting cards and other paper products, is a small store, there will be a limit of three customers at any one time.
McCarthy, who runs The Studio along with her partner Jayson Twombly, said there are seldom more than two people in her shop at once, so social distancing should not be a problem.
As she prepares to reopen her doors to the public, McCarthy said offering online sales and other personalized shopping services has kept her going during the shutdown.
“I’ve worked very hard not to say ‘closed,’” she said. “I say we’re open 24/7 online, or we’re open for window shopping.
McCarthy said if it had not been for the pandemic she might not have set up a website for e-sales. “We always resisted going online because we always thought the shop was the experience,” she said.
She said small-business owners like herself have had one advantage in weathering the crisis.
“I’m grateful for the agility I’ve had as a small business owner with the changes I’ve made,” she explained.
For Ayers, the big lesson is similar to the Boy Scout motto.
“The biggest lesson is it doesn’t matter how perfect your plans are. Something can go wrong. You always have to be prepared,” he said.