Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local retail came to a near stop in Garden City when Gov. Laura Kelly’s stay-at-home order was issued in March.
However, local retailers began feeling the effects of COVID-19 in the community before the order went into place, said Lona DuVall, president and CEO of Finney County Economic Development Corporation.
"I think because it was in the news so much there were already, probably, some slowdowns of folks rushing out to go shopping, not knowing if the virus was here yet or not," she said.
Sheila Crane, executive director of Downtown Vision, agreed that as more information on the virus came in, everyday traffic slowed down, which meant local retailers saw fewer people coming into their stores.
COVID-19 has affected every business, Crane said. It has hit each business differently, depending on whether it was deemed essential or nonessential.
"Businesses really had to adjust and change their methods of operation," she said. "Where I think you’re seeing the biggest impact is Main Street and the restaurants, hotels, service-based-type industries that overnight they saw their business and customers, whatever it may be, just completely cut off."
Businesses in Garden City began the reopening process on May 11 after the Finney County Commission voted in a special session on May 8 to enter into Phase 1 of Kelly’s plan to reopen the Kansas economy.
DuVall said business owners got creative during the stay-at-home order, finding ways to "deliver their goods to their customer base without being able to unlock their doors."
Sonya Roth, owner of Coleen’s Trophies, began utilizing the website the store already had for online shopping by creating an Etsy account, Facebook and Instagram.
"I figured everybody was at home and people were shopping because there were still things that they needed and I thought I was going to have to jump in the ballgame here and get people to see that these local stores still have stuff," she said.
Roth’s business is an awards and trophies shop but also does gifts — corporate/personalized gifts.
Awards and trophies make up the largest part of the business, Roth said, but they’ve had to rely on the gifts for the past month and a half.
In addition to online shopping, the store has offered curbside delivery for those who have shopped online.
Roth said it’s something they’re still doing even though they have reopened the store.
Gary Gipson, owner of Gipson Diamond Jewelers, said his business has also utilized online shopping via social media, mainly Facebook, since COVID-19 hit.
"I spent a whole day just putting offerings up on Facebook. Facebook now allows businesses to actually put a shopping cart where you can actually shop there," he said.
The store has also done a lot of shipping, Gipson said. It couldn’t deliver items and people couldn’t come pick them up, but the store did mail a lot of jewelry.
Gipson said the key during this time was staying busy and creating a sense of normalcy with customers.
"We let customers know that we're still here, we're still working, we can do everything over the phone, via email, text messaging and we can mail (items)," he said. "We realized early on that people were so, everybody was a little scared, so we tried to instill a sense of normalcy both in the workplace and tried to convey that to our customers."
As businesses reopen, Crane said, retail and restaurants will rebound, but the key is customer confidence, and customers will determine how quickly or slowly that happens.
Retailers and downtown businesses are taking the reopening seriously, Crane said, taking precautions to ensure the safety of their business, staff and patrons.
"Many of them have done deep cleanings, they’re getting hand sanitizer and masks, those kinds of things so that when the time is right or the time is allowed for customers to come in, they’re prepared," she said.
Downtown Vision, Finney County Economic Development Corporation, Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce and Finney County Convention and Tourism have partnered to create a reopening guide that gives regulation guidance for each industry.
DuVall said the guide is a compilation of all the resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and others.
Myca Bunch, executive director of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce, said what the "new normal" entails for retailers and other businesses is cloudy. No one has an exact answer.
Right now, Bunch said, businesses have "signs posted, their employees are wearing masks, they’re sanitizing their store and following CDC guidelines on the appropriate time and methods."
Roth said that going forward, her store will likely continue curbside delivery to people who order online, wearing a mask when delivering when people ask her to, and cleaning more thoroughly.
"My store's always been clean, but we were definitely doing a little more," she said. "Every time the credit card machine is used it's wiped down, Lysol is used a little more, just a lot of cleaners, vacuum more, everything."
Gipson said that for the foreseeable future his "new normal" looks very similar.
If a customer comes in wearing a mask, they ask if the customer would prefer they wear one; the store got rid of its kid area; and when someone needs to sign a receipt for using a credit card, the store is giving away packaged pens.
The entire store is also wiped down every evening, and Gipson is looking into getting an ozone sterilization box.
"Our pens, our calculators, our keys and anything that a customer might touch, our ticket registers can go into this box and we turn it on and it shoots ozone on it and ... it's been proven to kill COVID-19 virus," he said.
DuVall said local retail can recover, but the community needs to be supportive and it’s not going to happen overnight. People have to feel comfortable to resume their normal shopping and dining activities, she said.
"I think they will recover, but as a community we need to really be supportive of them in any way that we can and help to ensure that," she said.