FARGO — Two months ago, the retail shopping experience consisted of browsing through racks of clothes, flipping through hangers and try-on sessions in the fitting rooms.
As clothing stores begin to reopen their doors, shoppers will see just how much has since changed.
“We’re ready to open. We’ve been closed for six weeks,” said co-owner of leela & lavender Laura Polanski. “That’s a long time for a small business to be closed.”
The women’s clothing store in Fargo implemented a “leela Smart Restart” plan in order to open their Fargo and Bismarck doors Saturday, May 2, for the first time since mid-March.
“At this point, we're listening to the governor and doing everything according to the CDC guidelines,” Polanski said. “We feel that we're now able to open with the precautions we have in place.”
Upon entering the boutique, customers must sanitize their hands at the sanitation station near the front doors. Everyone in the retail store will be wearing a mask or face covering, including customers, per the boutique’s request.
Shoppers will see taped Xs on designated areas of the floor, namely the checkout, to ensure everyone is 6-feet apart. When clients reach the register to pay, only credit card payments will be accepted, no cash.
“We're going to do everything we can and take all the precautions we can to make sure that we're providing a safe environment,” Polanski said.
Only 10 people will be allowed in the store at a time. Leela is operating with reduced hours and having less people per shift to help with social distancing. Employees will be cleaning hourly, wiping down everything from the counters, fixtures and hangers.
Leela & lavender won’t be opening their fitting rooms at this time, either. In light of the pandemic, the store altered its return policy.
“We know that right now, people may not feel comfortable coming into the store. We know people are shopping online, and we're doing a curbside service,” Polanski said. “We want to make sure we're allowing the customers enough time to be able to return.”
For those not quite ready to enter the store, leela is offering curbside pickup and delivery, virtual styling sessions and phone orders, in addition to its online store. Non-business hour shopping appointments can also be scheduled.
Since all five leela & lavender stores in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota closed, online traffic has spiked, but it doesn’t make up for the sales of five stores, Polanski said.
Leela & lavender’s neighbor at The Shoppes at BLU Water Creek also reopened May 2.
When Willow District closed about six weeks ago, it was a scary decision for Yvonne Denault. She had been in business a year with this store, which moved from downtown where it was formerly doing business as Jessie Blue.
It was basically like starting over again, Denault said.
“I was just going on an upswing from recovering from the startup costs,” Denault said. “And then all this started. Basically for every month you’re down, you have to double that for the amount of time it takes to recoup.”
With bills to pay, Denault is happy to open her doors again, but nervous at the same time. She’s helping customers from a distance with plenty of protocol in place, including reduced hours.
Only eight people will be allowed in the store, which has an already limited staff of three workers, at a given time. Willow District is requesting its staff and customers wear masks and use hand sanitizer when they enter. Doors will be cleaned frequently along with any other high-touch area.
“It is scary as a small business owner, because you're relying on your community to basically shop with you and support your business so you can stay afloat and hopefully do well,” Denault said.
Because people have to pull items over their faces, Willow District’s dressing rooms won’t be open. The store is doing curbside returns, and when items are returned, they’ll be steamed and off the sales floor for 24 hours.
“We’re being very cautious,” Denault said.
There won’t be any face-to-face interaction at the checkout, either. Willow District has a long counter, and the customer and employee will be at opposite corners, Denault said. Cash payment also won’t be accepted.
If people don’t feel comfortable going in, Denault is encouraging shopping online through the store’s website, curbside pickup and personal styling and shopping services through Zoom.