Cedar Falls Main Street adjusting to challenges of COVID

On April 2, governor Kim Renyolds ordered the closings of restaurants and bars, fitness centers, salons, barbershops, tattoo establishments, massage therapy establishments, senior citizens centers and other nonessential retail establishments until April 30. 

This proclamation affected many, but not all of the businesses on Main Street. With the closing of the doors, some businesses had no other way of selling their merchandise, others substituted with curbside pickup, shipping and/or delivery. 

Cup of Joe, a coffee establishment on Main St. since 1995, owner Dawn Wilson was not required to close, but ultimately Wilson decided to for a period of time.“My first reaction to the virus, since I dealt with the floods in the past, was not to panic. The second thing was knowing everything was going to be okay. The third thing was that I could tell the employees were getting nervous with everything they heard from the media,” she said. So that’s why we decided to shut down ten days in March just to give everyone time and me some time. 

After reevaluating things, Wilson said her next step was reopening  for carryout. “Basically whatever I was allowed to do to reopen, that’s what I was going to do, to make it happen. Also, I opened up an online store the ten days I was closed, so I wasn’t necessarily just hanging out at home. That really helped out a lot,” she said. On March 31 Wilson opened up the store for carryout only. Customers were allowed to walk into the shop and purchase Cup of Joe’s usual drinks and treats but were not allowed to stay in the shop. Masks were not required to enter the shop. 

Wilson said she doesn’t “look at situations as roadblocks,” but searches for the “many positives in each situation.” Wilson said one positive is the community. “We have such a great community and everyone wants to support us. And they’ll do whatever it takes to support us. So finding ways to do whatever they can financially. People bought gift cards that they’re not using now, but they’ll use later on. Yes, we still have less people coming into the store, but we still have that support,” she said. 

Wilson reopened for full dine-in service on May 15. Cup of Joe and employees still take precautions by supplying hand sanitizers, employees are hand sanitizing their hands, they are using cups for “used pens” and “new pens,” and they are making sure tables are far apart as well as seats. 

Ann Eastman’s, owner of Miss Wonderful Vintage downtown, said her first reaction to the Corona Virus was “denial and disbelief.” “ But then once it started to sink in, it became very real, and it was all about that collective feeling of we’ve got to do our part. I remember being in yoga that first week, and this was before they were talking about closing anything, ‘I was like okay, I’m not setting foot in here again.’ I’m not comfortable being in here. I know it’s just temporary, so I wasn’t devastated. This new reality of being socially responsible meaning, I’m not going to be able to do a lot of the things I want to do,” she said.

The first step Eastman took, regarding her shop, after she heard about the Coronavirus was closing doors. “It all came rushing in so fast, so the first change was really to close. I believe it was March 18th, and the governor, I believe she jumped in then and said everyone is closed starting tomorrow,” she said. 

Eastman said she decided to use this time to work on her business. “I was so tired of that mid-tone grey on the walls and how dark it made the store, So, I thought, ‘this is my only chance to get the store painted.’ I did almost all of it myself. I thought ‘I’m going to paint all of the shelves, all of the cubbies and baseboards white again, and I’m going to paint the wall and the floor,’ she said. “That took me a month, to get that done. The past month has been all about the website. It’s almost ready to go live, the e-commerce side of it.”

While Eastman was working on the store she started selling merchandise via facebook and Instagram posts with curbside pick up. “I’ll do Instagram stories or Facebook posts and customers will contact me,” she said.  “If it’s a small item they can call the store to purchase or I can send them an invoice. Then generally I would set a little table up in the back and write curbside delivery on it, and put their name on it. As long as they tell me when they’re coming roughly.” “With furniture, customers have had to come in the store to pick it up and carry it out of the store. I ask that they wear masks and we just stay away from each other,” Eastman said. 

Eastman said there were three prongs to continuing business post closing of her store.“I’d say it’s a three prong approach. The first prong was the gift card promotion, the second prong was the selling via social media with curbside pick up and the third prong is the online store.” 

Although Eastman said the three prongs don’t cover all of her overhead, she said it did help. “It doesn’t make up for the amount of money I lost. But It’s definitely helped. It has helped pay the rent. It has helped, but nominally. It has helped with 10-20% of my overhead. But there is still a big gaping hole there,” she said. 

Eastman reopened for complete service on Saturday May 16, but she said she won’t feel “completely comfortable until there is a vaccine.” 

To protect herself, workers and the community Eastman requires masks when coming into the store. Eastman also said she plans on adding plexiglass in front of the counter for added protection. “It’ll be like a ticket taker, you can take money, and pass things under it. It’s a shield, they can’t sneeze in your face,” she said. 

Scott and Sara Gall, owners of the downtown running store, The Runner’s Flat, and manager, Bryan Rutledge, moved fast and had a game plan meeting when hearing about the pandemic. “We had a coming to Jesus meeting and said ‘alright what are we going to do here, to figure out the game plan and stuff?” Scott Gall said. “For us, we were more into deciding what we can do to row the boat. What I mean is, there were some places that decided to shut down, we didn’t want to close down, we wanted to fight and do whatever we could do,” Gall said. 

Gall said the business did have to close doors for 48 hours, but was still able to do curbside pick-up. The store reopened on March 18.

 Although Gall said they wanted to keep the business running full service, he didn’t want citizens buying out of pity. “Our community came together and totally supported us and jumped in whenever they could. But what we didn’t want was, all of a sudden, people buying shoes who didn’t need shoes,” he said. 

In addition to keeping doors open for full walk-in service, Gall said the business supplies people with their needed products in other ways. “We did a ton of curbside, free shipping, local delivery, virtual gate analysis with files on the cell phone just being sent. This way we can make it feasible that people can still get our stuff from us but not come in here so everyone can stay safe and healthy and all of that, he said. “What we tried to do is offer expertise to our customers, but do it virtually.”  

Gall said The Runner’s Flat will continue to offer these business perks to customers and continue to let them know about them. “We’re going to let people know they have all these options and we just let people choose these options. We will continue some of the full service perks that we offered. We will keep those available and continue to allow people to know that they’re available.”

To take safety precautions, The Runner’s Flat is currently only allowing 10 people in the store, including staff. To keep people even more safe, Gall said they are adding seating in front of the store to help space people out. “We’re going to put some seating areas outside. So we have space in the front of the store, space in the middle of the store, and we’ll probably create space in the back of the store. Within the building and outside we’re going to have two or three other seating areas, which will allow us to have more people in the store,” he said. To come into the store, The Runner’s Flat does not require masks. 

Gall said weekends were slower than normal, but that he, Sara Gall and Rutledge feel grateful that they were able to continue the business during this time We just feel blessed that we were able to do what we did and throughout were able to continue doing what we’re doing. Everyone is going to take a hit at some point. So, we’re not going to sit there and complain ‘Oh we’re down this and we’re down that.’”

To help with business losses downtown, shops have been applying for grants and loans. “There was a small business grant opportunity that almost every business applied for, it’s up to 25,000 dollars. I have not been granted that. But they keep opening new grant rounds. So I’m hoping there might be hope for me in the future. I would say 7-10 businesses downtown have gotten the grant money. So, a lot of businesses haven’t received the grant money,” Eastman said.

 Another opportunity for financial help is called the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). Eastman said “it’s more helpful if you’re a bar or restaurant.” One can apply if they’re still trying to do curbside delivery or trying to keep their restaurant open.The government would grant a business money to cover payroll and some expenses. “It’s basically a forgivable loan,” Eastman said.

Eastman said the Small Business Administration was offering low interest loans as well. “But a loan, you know, you got to pay it back. So, I don’t know how much help that is, when you feel like you lost a lot of money. But it’s a life line,” Eastman said. Eastman said she has been loaning herself money through her savings which she will have to pay back. 

  One way the community can help businesses Downton and Community Main Street is by continuing to support these businesses in whatever way the one can financially and safely. Businesses are doing curbside pick-up and deliveries. Restaurants are doing curbside pick-up, delivery and in-person dining service. 

 

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