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Checking in With Chippewa Valley Retailers

shoppers can support local businesses, but with a face mask and a purpose

Rebecca Mennecke, photos by Andrea Paulseth

MASK UP. Shops around the Valley – like Tangled Up In Hue in Eau Claire – are seeing less foot traffic, but more folks coming in with the intent to support local shops.
MASK UP. Shops around the Valley – like Tangled Up In Hue in Eau Claire – are seeing less foot traffic, but more folks coming in with the intent to support local shops.

It has been nearly four months since Gov. Tony Evers ordered Wisconsin residents to shelter in place, closing any business deemed non-essential, as a result of the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“Although coronavirus has been challenging in all aspects of life, it is particularly challenging to small business owners,” said Erin Klaus, co-owner of Tangled Up in Hue (505 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire).

Since the economy looks like it’s opening back up – albeit slowly – we thought we’d check in with local businesses to see how they’re faring during these unprecedented times.

SAFETY COMES FIRST

Matt Pabich, owner of Raggedy Man (401 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire) has one simple request: “If you are going out into public, bring a face mask. You may not need it, but it’s a very simple courtesy you can extend to people if you decide to enter a public space.”

“I encourage people to shop with intent. Have an idea of what you want, like you would the grocery store. It’s still not a great time to go wandering because you’re bored.”
Matt Pabich, owner of Raggedy Man

Stores often require masks, limit shoppers to a certain number at a time, and have sometimes even installed a protective shield at the register, according to Pabich.

Others, such as Collective Charm (16 W Columbia St., Chippewa Falls), implemented social distancing guidelines, updated cleaning policies, and added new employee illness directives. They have scaled back their inventory to ensure customers can maintain a safe distance from one another using traffic arrows on the floor to help.

They also re-stock their shelves outside of customer shopping times to reduce contact, according to owner Becky Zimmerman.

The public has been largely receptive of face mask requirements, said Klaus of Tangled Up in Hue. However, this isn’t true for every store.

At Collective Charm, Zimmerman found that face mask usage was “very low.” Susan Thurin, owner of Bookends on Main (214 Main St. E, Menomonie), found that about 75% of customers wear masks, though everyone respects social distancing.

“With the increase of COVID numbers and business closures, we’re finding greater use of masks,” Zimmerman added.

Some businesses provide a certain amount of leeway when it comes to face coverings. For example, The Broom and Crow (106 E. Grand Ave., Eau Claire) requires people to “wear a mask or reasonable face covering like a scarf, hijab, or bandana. ... No exceptions,” owner Tabatha Voss said.

Many businesses – such as La Dee Dah (311 Main St. E, Menomonie) – are open to suggestions of new procedures in an effort to help customers feel safe.

WHAT’S SELLING? WHO’S BUYING?

Anyone and everyone have been stopping by to support local businesses, Chippewa Valley retailers say.

“The only demographic missing since re-opening are the college students,” Zimmerman said.

Lee’s Lavish Boutiques (1400 N Broadway St., Menomonie), like other newer businesses, found they are actually expanding the range of products they offer – which they found surprising during these times.

At businesses such as Thred Lab (301 Main St. E, Suite A, Menomonie), many people are looking for items that are useful for hobbies. They have sold a high number of fat quarters and fat quarter bundles of fabric, which owner Lori Krause suspects are used to make masks.

“It’s a great time to be a sewist and have a fabric store,” Krause said.

Back in Eau Claire, Tangled Up in Hue has seen an increase in the demand for DIY kits, as well as yarn and fiber sales. They have created 10-15 new DIY kits, which are available online and in store. The two owners have also seen a rise in demand for personal care items such as soaps and lotions. Other stores have seen an increase in demand for home décor items, as people try to carve out new living spaces to adapt to the times. Folks who shop at La Dee Dah in Menomonie often buy gifts, the owner said.

“I encourage people to shop with intent,” said Pabich, owner of Raggedy Man. “Have an idea of what you want, like you would the grocery store. It’s still not a great time to go wandering because you’re bored.”

ONLINE? IN-PERSON? CURBSIDE PICKUP?

Most local retailers are balancing three different options: in-person, online, and curbside pickup.

Most retailers continue to offer curbside pick-up and online options, with a select few – such as Thred Lab – still closed to the public. Many retailers were simply not prepared to shift online when the pandemic hit, which made shelter-in-place particularly difficult for small businesses.

For example, Krause said the pandemic “jumpstarted” Thred Lab’s online business, illuminating gaps they had. They started doing Facebook Live sales, which have boosted their business.

Though most business still offer curbside pickup, delivery and curbside pick-up options only worked well for the interim, according to Pabich. In-store purchases are easier to process and luckily most people are opting for in-store purchases, said Thurin of Bookends on Main.

“Since I’ve reopened to foot traffic,” said Voss, owner of The Broom and Crow, “online orders have waned.”

IN-STORE TRAFFIC

As the Chippewa Valley economy slowly reopens, many businesses are finding an increase in the number of in-person shoppers.

“When we first opened our doors back up, there were several hesitant shoppers,” Lee said. “As time has gone on, people appear to feel more safe and comfortable shopping again.”

Tangled Up in Hue’s owners noted a decrease in foot traffic, but more customers coming in with the intention to support local businesses.

Zimmerman noted the unsurprising fact that fewer tourists visit the store. A few trickle in here and there, but it’s been nothing like an ordinary Chippewa Valley summer.

A big deciding factor in foot traffic in various stores is the weather.  “If it’s too hot, too cold, or too ‘weathery’ outside, folks are pretty scarce,” Voss said.
Other factors include current events and road repair, Thurin said.

WHAT BUSINESSES WANT YOU TO KNOW

Most local businesses want to express their immense gratitude for community support, retailers say.

“Without the support of the community during the pandemic, things could have gone much worse for us,” Lee said. “We are blessed to have been able to stay open and gain the support we have and continue to receive.”

They still encourage folks to support local businesses; Thurin said that 68% of money spent to a locally owned business stays in the community, whereas only 43% of money spent at a nationally owned chain stays in the community.

Klaus said that sharing information about local businesses on social media can really help a business out without costing a single cent.

“Although we are doing well, we are petrified that this could all go away tomorrow,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not confident that we, or any of those that survived the first shutdown, could endure another closure.”