Secure Shopping in the Bull City
Durham retailers: caring for customers despite COVID-19.
Durham’s local government and public health officials have slowly been easing local restrictions to allow for more dine-in and retail shopping experiences. We know there’s a lot of information out there, so thought it would be prudent to reach out to our business owners directly to get a sense of how they have been preparing to welcome customers back to physical locations. Retail opened first in Durham, so we decided to start there. One thing that’s important to note: wherever or whenever you do decide to go out in public, remember that face coverings are required in public spaces where social distancing measures cannot be observed to help slow the spread of disease and take care of one another.
Lauren Rathbone of Public Hardware has been open since day one, implementing escalating measures over time to get COVID supplies to those who need them, from disinfecting sprays to hand sanitizer throughout the store. They encourage curbside shopping for shipments of N95 or disposable masks, face shields, fabric face guards, nitrile gloves and more. (Non-COVID related items are also available for order if you call in.)
Lauren expressed her gratitude for the generosity she's seen since the pandemic began, from free meals offered outside of Geer Street Garden, to people buying masks to give to strangers and the many people who helped Public Hardware by sharing their posts and getting the word out.
From observing folks holding shopping events on Facebook, selling sangria in a pouch, making to-go batch lattes, and hosting all sorts of classes online, Katie Westermann of Bull City Fair Trade is in awe of the creativity that's come out of these trying times. She says, “Everyone I talk to in Durham is trying to do their part to keep their favorite places in business. Some order takeout from a different restaurant each week, others are sending gifts to their friends all over the country, and I've heard several people say they're ditching their big box staples if they can buy them at a local spot.”
Most specifically, she says, "We want everyone who comes into the store to feel safe and welcome, so we took our time and really thought about how we could reopen safely. We started by thoroughly cleaning the store and removing several fixtures so we could spread out our displays and create more room on the sales floor. Our staff members are wearing masks and we ask that customers do the same and practice social distancing while they shop. We have hand sanitizing stations and added a barrier in front of our register to ensure more space between staff and shoppers as they check out. We're wiping down surfaces with disinfectant after each customer, and while we haven't had to yet, we will limit the number of people in the store if we feel that social distancing is being compromised."
There are also designated entrances, exits and checkout shields at Cecy’s Gallery, where owner Cecelia H. Davis says there's much more underway. "At Cecy's, we are following all of the guidelines as recommended by the state: we are being mindful of how many visitors are in the shop at one time and have a designated route for customers to follow when entering. We are still the same Cecy's and are still giving smiles to visitors (behind our masks of course)!" Cecy's is carrying the work of over 20 artists who are excited to share their work with the public, and Cecelia says they could especially use support.
"To Cecy's, the people are what makes Durham beautiful to us. The strength of the community during this time and everyone's willingness to help others shows the kindness of the hearts of those in Durham."
Small business collaboration and thorough, full-store sanitation efforts are the tip of the iceberg at Vaguely Reminiscent, owner Karen Merowchek says. Additional safety measures they have instated include:
- Limiting customers to four people at a time (far below 50% capacity).
- Sanitizing frequently touched surfaces (counter, credit card machine pin pad, door knobs) after every transaction.
- All staff will wear masks, and any sick employee will stay home (with pay).
- All customers must wear a mask, and there is hand sanitizer at the door for use upon entering.
- They are continuing to offer curbside pickup for orders placed over the phone.
- For those who need a mask, they are selling ones made by the Scrap Exchange to help support them.
"We have been overwhelmed with support from our customers," she continued. "From customers purchasing gift certificates for future use, to folks who have sent us a simple message on social media asking how we are doing and sending their support, it has been incredibly moving and affirming. We just had a customer come in today and give us a handwritten note stating that this is the store she missed the most and wanted to return to first. To see how the community has come together to make masks and provide food to those who need it is what makes Durham such a special place to call home."
Jennifer Bedell of Atomic Empire is putting in work to ensure customers can enjoy her space safely.
"We're limiting occupancy in our store to make sure everyone has plenty of space. Customers and employees are wearing masks at all times to protect our community members, and we're still offering contactless curbside pickup for the safest possible experience," she says.
She also mentioned that she and her crew have been astonished by and grateful for the outpouring of support as citizens have gone out of their way to keep their favorite Durham landmarks in business. "Durham is really a special place, and we feel lucky to have such a generous community to call our own."
Stan Hopkins has rolled out a full-fledged set of sanitation requirements for Bull City Apparel, all of which are designed to set customers' minds at ease.
Store hours have been adjusted to incorporate additional time to perform thorough store cleanings three times per day. They have modified their process to include disinfecting high traffic and all touch areas between each customer contact and encouraging customer participation in contactless payment methods.
BullCity Apparel associates are washing their hands frequently and following CDC guidelines for increased attention to personal sanitation. They have installed sneeze guards and a hand sanitation station at the entrance to our store for customer use, and have employee-only restroom facilities.
Physical Distancing and Masks
They require all employees and associates to follow the mandatory mask guidelines prior to entering our store. Employees and associates are practicing safe physical distancing guidelines (by staying six feet apart from others) and they are limiting the number of customers in the store at one time to limit exposure. They are marking six feet intervals on the floor to assist customers in complying with safe social distancing guidelines.
Associate assistance is offered upon request to create a contactless transaction for any customer who is not comfortable touching our merchandise.
They use an active air purification system, originally developed by NASA, that significantly reduces odors, allergens, bacteria, and viruses, adding a layer of protection and fresh air year-round.
In this challenging time for our community, Stan says that he is grateful to have witnessed the beauty of the care, concern and compassion of my fellow small business owner and retail neighbor, the Chicken Hut. "The persevering kindness they demonstrate weekly, as they joined community partners to feed ALL hungry children ages 0-18 for free every Monday, while also feeding the need to read for these children by providing free books with their meal is what makes me proud to be a part of this community."
If you haven't had the opportunity to schedule 1:1 appointments, virtual personal styling services, help via chat and handpicked personal collections at Vert & Vogue, now is the perfect time to do so.
In addition to continuing to offer curbside pickup Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m., Vert & Vogue is taking the reopening process very cautiously. They have been diligently training their team on safety protocols: the space and garments will be sanitized before and after every appointment, they will require their customers and team members to wear masks, and maintain proper social distance requirements for the duration of their visit. In addition to sanitizer, gloves will be provided for every customer, as well. They hope these measures will help us give customers the attention they deserve, while also offering the safest possible conditions for them, the Vert & Vogue team, and the larger Durham community.
"The most beautiful thing about Durham is its caring, engaged and generous community," Katie says. "It’s humbling to see Durhamites show up for our small businesses and many vital organizations that are helping the most vulnerable. We are so very grateful. If we continue to show up for each other — the restaurants, retailers, friends and community — we will emerge on the other side of this pandemic together.
"We’re inspired by the small businesses in Durham that have adopted entirely new business models to keep serving the community. We are grateful for the restaurants providing food for frontline workers, children, the elderly, and the homeless. Every Sunday we’ve been highlighting those amazing efforts on our social media."
Katie hit the nail on the head when she said, “Every online order, donation, and purchase, no matter how big or how small, means the world to us. It's a way of saying, ‘Hey, I want to make sure you're still here when all of this is over,’ and that's been so reassuring in a time where nothing is certain.”
We encourage you to continue to support our retail community, today and always.