On Monday, Alexandria retailers opened their doors to customers. For some, it was the first time since mid-March, when Gov. Tim Walz ordered places of public accommodation to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For others, it was the first time since late February, when a downtown fire caused smoke damage to adjacent businesses.
“It’s nice to be able to come and shop for what you want,” said Pam Miller, who was ordering fabric from Dawn’s Quilt Shop. “And I want to support the people in the stores.”
Foot traffic was spotty throughout Alexandria, with some stores reporting double their normal foot traffic and others reporting it was pretty slow. Not all stores opened on Monday; some said they would open later in the week.
“It’s only the first day,” said Sandy Sheets, who co-owns Scandinavian Gift Shop, where business had been slow.
“It’s going to be a while before people are shopping up a storm,” said Deb Kerr, co-owner of Potomac Bead Company, which has not yet opened its doors to the public because it is still trying to recover from smoke damage.
Retail stores were able to open as long as they had a plan to keep customers and employees safe. For many, that meant putting out masks for sale and hand sanitizer and signs encouraging social distancing. Some added Plexiglass sheets between the cashier and customers. Workers were wiping down door handles and credit card machines throughout the day.
Some stores, such as Cherry Street Books, were requiring all customers to wear masks. Others let it remain optional.
Several shopkeepers said they were taking their cue from their customers. If a customer walked into their store wearing a mask, they would put theirs on. If not, they would leave theirs off.
The Grain Bin, a health food and products store near the Interstate, ran into the buzzsaw of public opinion when it first posted on Facebook that it would require masks.
Some customers immediately began arguing online that they shouldn’t have to wear masks, said manager Amy Warrey. When she showed the comments to her mom, who owns the store, her mom said to remove the requirement, she said. Then customers disputed that decision.
“Thank you,” wrote Katie Noyes. “I was a tad disappointed that a health food store was requiring them.”
“It’s about the freedom to choose,” wrote Hannah Bjork.
“Your store, you make the rules,” wrote Char Berglin. “Don’t stand down to pressure.”
“I won’t be there if there aren’t any masks,” wrote Sonja Folger.
Warrey said for those who don’t feel comfortable entering the store with no masks, they would provide curbside pickup.
Her business was way up Monday, about 60 shoppers, compared to about 30 on a normal day, she said.
“I’m just happy to be open,” Warrey said.
For Kari Lempka, owner of Sixth and Broadway Clothing and Decor, opening has been a long time coming. She bought the business in January and planned a soft opening for March 9, but the fire delayed that plan. She wanted her grand opening to take place on fishing opener weekend, but that didn’t happen either.
Curbside pickup didn’t do well, and her online store proved slow.
By the time Monday, May 18 rolled around, she was more than ready to welcome the public into her high-end women’s clothing shop.
“Today is much better than what we’ve seen so far,” she said. “I’m very encouraged.”