Retailers adjusting as they reopen

There's some good news and bad news from the independently owned and operated retail stores in Prince George as they slowly reopen their doors under the COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery plan.

For Simply Beautiful Jewelry Design and Clothing owner Patti Perrault, it was all about keeping up with her Facbook page, providing updates and information to clients and building a website soon after the forced closures took place in March to offer online purchases with doorstep delivery.

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"It was about thinking outside the box," Perrault said.  

She reopened the downtown store on May 21 with hand sanitizer at the door and a shield up at the counter between herself and paying customers.

If there are three people in the store, a chain goes up across the open door and potential customers are asked to wait outside until another customer exits.

First-time in-store customer Rose Hitz said she loved the Mother's Day gift boxes Simply Beautiful offered online during the closure.

"My mother is immune compromised so I haven't been able to see her and she was thrilled to receive the orchid bouquet for Mother's Day," Hitz said, who was in the store buying face masks made from bamboo for her mother. "My mother said she hadn't had orchids since grad and she was just about in tears when she got it - the bouquet was delivered right to her door so that was awesome."

Because of the wonderful service she's received from Simply Beautiful, both online and in person, Hitz said she'll be a repeat customer.

To create Mother's Day gift packages, Perrault collaborated with local businesses including Something Blue Floral Design, Wildwood Handmade Soap Co., Blissful Bubbles Boutique, Lavender & Lace and Tabor Mountain Candles. 

"We had to do something extra to make this work for everyone," she said.

On the business end, Perrault pays for all her merchandise up front. With stores closed for two and a half months, the pressure is on to make up those losses quickly.

She opened the store in the Hart Mall three years ago and the downtown store at 421 Dominion St. is a year old. 

For now, just the downtown store is open Thursday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with personal shopping available between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Perrault was able to take advantage of the government's rent subsidy for both locations and the online sales took care of the utility bills, she said. 

Perrault employs four people.

"The big thing is my girls were all taken care of with government money so that made me feel not as bad because they weren't hurting," she said. 

When she reopens the Hart Mall store, there will probably only be one other person needed.

"I will be working long hours," Perrault said. 

It looks like that will be her reality for the rest of the year to make up for the financial losses experienced during the COVID crisis.

"Because we were able to continue a bit online it helped us but other businesses that are coming back after being closed will have a hard time," Perrault said.

Park Avenue Apparel is one of those businesses.

Wendy Chartrand reopened the doors at her Bon Voyage Plaza location May 20 and it's been tough. During the closure, Chartrand offered shop-by-appointment but people just chose to stay home, she said.

"A few ladies that came in when we opened last week were so happy to come back to the store," Chartrand said, who has had the store for three years.

"People can feel safe coming in to shop. I probably won't allow more than two people in the shop at a time. There's plenty of room for social distancing and I am sanitizing the place all the time. I would love for my customers to start coming into the store to say hi and have a look around. Hopefully things will pick up again soon."

The spring and summer stock is in the store and Chartrand said the vendors have been really good about not expecting payment as quickly as they usually get it.

Future success is certainly not a guarantee.

"What's going to happen with all the small businesses if there's a second wave?" Chartrand said. "Another wave of this - we're not going to be able to make it." 

Park Avenue Apparel is open Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and hours will be extended as the provincial economic plan is expanded.

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