Running a business is seldom a walk in the park. It’s more like juggling blindfolded while riding a unicycle uphill in a severe wind. For good measure, let’s throw in a pandemic.
We all have personal stories of how life has changed since mid-March, and we’re aware that the economy has taken a hard hit. Slowly, and with caution, we’re getting the go-ahead to open more businesses.
So how have local businesses been impacted by the lockdown, and by the movement to a phase that allows reopening? We spoke with the owners of three small businesses, each with their own unique situations. Today: The Odds & Sods Shoppe.
The February 25 Facebook photos show a very empty store. This was the former location of The ODDs & SODs Shoppe. Everything had been packed and moved to the new store. All was ready for new experiences. New challenges.
And a new challenge there was. Their March 19 Facebook post announced the store’s temporary closure due to COVID-19.
It was during this temporary closure that The ODDs & SODs Shoppe marked its fifth anniversary. Owner Mike Pilkington recalls why he first opened the shop. “My British dad had this box of miscellaneous stuff in the garage labelled ‘Odds & Sods’ (a bit of everything). My plan was to open a store a bit like that box: a place where people who love music, movies, and pop culture could escape and get caught up in a store packed full of stuff they’d get excited about and would feel good about purchasing after they left. That feeling—lasting happiness—is something I wanted to put front and centre. And this wasn’t just about the stuff we had, it was about the people we had.”
Those people have been on Mike’s mind throughout the move and the closure. In our second of three features on 613 businesses reopening, Mike Pilkington talks about team members and reopening decisions.
We actually decided to close a few days before the government mandate came down. The situation was getting a little stressful to be operating a retail store, and we just decided that in the best health interests of our staff, our families, and our customers that we needed to close down to the public.
We had a staff meeting and discussed everyone’s comfort level. We really wrestled with whether, ethically speaking, we should be doing business in any capacity. Ultimately, having just moved into a new location with construction bills still being levied, we felt if we could operate on a storefront-pickup basis safely, we would do so. We had to decide how to manage staffing expectations and how we could do so in a manner that was safe enough for us, and up to everyone’s comfort level. We have staff that are dependent on the income, and felt it was important to keep as many people employed as we could responsibly do. It was pretty scary, obviously, but as a small business owner with a family dependent on the income of the store, we didn’t have much of a choice but to try and innovate to keep some revenue coming in.
We quickly pivoted to a storefront pickup model, so really it was about maximizing the effectiveness of how this could be done. The first thing we did was contact the small business hotline to confirm whether we were OK to operate in the model we proposed. The language was quite vague in the government mandate for non-essential services, encouraging “innovative solutions” and “e-commerce” for businesses not regarded as essential. Once we got confirmation that everything we were proposing was above-board, we basically dove into making it work as smoothly and safely as possible.
We worked hard to add our inventory online and began the process of informing all our customers how they could still safely add us to their limited destinations as needed. While we are certainly not an essential service, it’s sometimes access to the little frivolities in life that can keep you feeling less overwhelmed in what is an incredibly stressful period for many people.
While we haven’t opened fully to the public, we certainly felt pressured to do so in some capacity. Storefront pickup started to really diminish once some stores reopened, so we had to adjust.
Our store is tightly packed, and browsing is a very physical process here, so we felt it was untenable to just open right back up. Things are still very much up in the air about how COVID-19 will develop in the city. We really don’t feel it was the right time to just open things back up without restrictions, at least as far as our type of retail store was concerned. Again, we had a big team deliberation to make sure everyone was secure in the possibility and worked out plans for what we’d need to have in place to make it safe in-store for customers and ourselves.
There was much to consider for reopening. There was the store, and how we would handle any issues that might arise. We’re constantly checking in on each other to make sure we’re hanging in and on the same page with everything. It’s a very stressful time for myself and them, so we keep each other grounded and sane during this. I also made sure the cash area was outfitted with custom plexiglass sneeze guards, and I brought in enough sanitizer and cleaning products for the foreseeable future.
We decided by shifting to a private shopping with booked appointment model, we could most safely manage the flow of people into the store and keep browsing safe for each customer who comes in. It only takes one person to make a store unsafe for anyone who follows, so we have a responsibility to make sure we’re limiting that risk as much as we can on our end. A lot of preparations were made both in terms of putting procedures into place and financial investment to get ready for this. I ordered as many safety elements as we felt we needed for our staff. I take my responsibility for their health very seriously. We talked out as many scenarios as possible to prepare for having outside bodies in.
It’s surreal being open. While we’re happy to have people be able to come in and enjoy browsing again, and see the beautiful new Shoppe setup, it’s also anxiety-inducing in some ways. Ultimately, we have to hang our heads on the procedures in place and trust that we’re being as safe as we can. Communication between the team members we have here has been a real blessing.
We’re all working together and have workplace relationships that allow each staff member to have a voice. We adjust as needed and will continue working on providing some sort of “new normal” to provide some joy to those who like the store we’ve built.
Tomorrow: The Art House Cafe.