Small businesses shut down because of COVID-19 and the governor’s stay-at-home order have taken a hard hit.

Onlines sales are helping but it’s not the same as being able to be open for customers. With new guidelines offered up by the governor last week, retail stores can now at least offer curbside pickup. But again, it is not the same.

“The stay-at-home orders have greatly affected our business by simply not allowing people to come into our shops,” said Brooke Sievers, owner of Hello Beautiful, a boutique and coffee shop in downtown Alexandria. “People need to be able to walk around, browse, shop, touch and see the items they are purchasing. When they are not allowed to do so, our sales are affected.”

Sievers said the store does offer online shopping and now, has curbside pickup available each day from noon to 3 p.m.

A sign for the specialty boutique and coffee shop, Hello Beautiful, details the hours for the store is open for curb side pickup. (Contributed)
A sign for the specialty boutique and coffee shop, Hello Beautiful, details the hours for the store is open for curb side pickup. (Contributed)

When the start of the shutdown was announced, Sievers, a mother of five, said she spent hours working on the store’s website. She was able to add hundreds of items in just a matter of days so that customers would be able to shop from home.

In addition, she’s had to ramp up the store’s Facebook and Instagram accounts to allow for more online shopping capabilities.

“We have to try and be in front of customers as much as we can so that they don’t forget about us,” she said.

Sievers said she posts daily on both social media accounts, including what the specials are along with photos of the store displays so people can see what the store has to offer.

Hello Beautiful has its own website, hellobeautifulmn.com, where people can buy items online. In addition, she said it has a “store” on Amazon.

“With most people having to stay at home, online shopping has been pretty decent,” said Sievers.

As for the curbside pickup availability, Sievers said once customers have made a purchase, she will get in touch with them and schedule a pick up time for them to get their merchandise.

“Owning a retail business is all about the relationships that we make with our customers,” said Sievers. “Not getting to see them or hear about their families is really hard and sad.”

She is looking forward to when she can reopen and customers are able to shop inside the store and she, along with the rest of the staff, can have that social interaction.

“I’m sure I speak for all of the other businesses when I say that we are excited for the warmer weather to come back and for our customers to come back downtown again,” said Sievers.

Staying in touch with customers

Jackie Ellingson, owner of Jackie J’s in downtown Alexandria, said it’s been quite the journey since March 27, which is the day her staff had to quit taking care of customers inside the store because of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the full service bridal shop that has been in business since 1990 this time of year is typically quite busy because of prom and upcoming spring and summer weddings.

“We have experienced a significant drop in sales as would be expected since we cannot see customers in our store,” said Ellingson. “Prom was very sad for us and the students this year. To have their high school years disrupted like this. It’s sad.”

She said in January, there was so much excitement with girls shopping for their prom gowns and finding just the right dress for that special day and then to have it all stopped in March and be put on hold.

For the store, Ellingson said she purchases all of the gowns at market in August the previous year and has them all paid for and in store by December ready for her customers to purchase for the upcoming season.

“Prom is essentially like our Christmas season,” she said. “But this year, we are left with more than 60% of the gowns that expected would’ve been sold for prom 2020 by now.”

Jackie J's bridal shop in Alexandria stands empty as the governor's stay-at-home order is still in affect. However, the store recently started taking private appointments. (Contributed)
Jackie J's bridal shop in Alexandria stands empty as the governor's stay-at-home order is still in affect. However, the store recently started taking private appointments. (Contributed)

Although the store has remained closed since the governor placed the stay-at-home orders, Ellingson said the store continued daily operations of receiving customer orders and checking up on each of their customers to see how they were doing through this whole situation.

She said many brides and grooms had to make some hard decisions on whether to move their wedding date to a later date or postpone until next year.

She said there were many long conversations with those customers trying to help them through the changes and to also just be a good listener for them as she said it’s been hard for them to make those changes when plans have been in place for so long.

A silver lining in all of it, she said, is that the vendors she works with have never missed a beat. The store has been able to continue receiving previously placed orders and the vendors have been able to place orders for future dates. As freight comes in, the store is able to contact customers to find out if customers want to do curbside pickup or if the merchandise needs to be placed on hold.

“We have remained very in touch with our customers on a daily basis just to calm their concerns by answering any questions they have,” said Ellingson.

The store has started taking private appointments all while keeping sanitation procedures a top priority. Ellingson said the store limits the amount of guests that can come in with a bride and there are sanitizing stations set up and masks in store for customers to use.

“We still have brides planning their special day. You just cannot stop love, so we are here to help them with their needs,” said Ellingson.

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She also stated she highly encourages people to not shop online as it is best for customers to see first hand the inventory in the store and being able to have someone assist them is worth it.

She stressed the importance of shopping local and supporting local.

“Alexandria has a wonderful shopping experience for everything and the small businesses in town continually support events in our community every day,” she said. “It's now time to support them. Stores, restaurants, gas stations, entertainment venues, any local establishment. Let’s show them we care.”