The new coronavirus has caused closures of gathering places such as restaurants, bars and movie theaters as the federal government and local leaders have implemented measures to contain the spread of the virus.
Arizona’s response hasn’t yet reached the level of Los Angeles and New York, which have ordered mandatory closures, but some local retailers in Phoenix are voluntarily shutting their doors temporarily to halt the spread of the virus.
“It is a really difficult decision for small businesses to close their doors but we’d rather feel like we are part of the solution and not the problem,” said an Instagram post for Phoenix boutique urbAna, owned by Ana and Brian Wells.
Businesses that are closing their brick-and-mortar locations are rushing to make their inventory available online.
“We’ve got to try to be a mini-Amazon,” urbAna’s Brian Wells said, “and make it convenient for the customer who’s not out and about.”
On March 16, President Donald Trump asked Americans to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. The next day, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego declared a state of emergency in the city and requested the closure of bars and reduction of restaurant operations to delivery, drive-thru and take-out only.
Changing Hands bookstore, urbAna, Mucho Más Art Studio and Gallery and Local Nomad are among the locally owned stores that have pivoted to online sales and offered incentives such as discounted or free shipping (some hand-delivered within a certain mile radius) and curbside pickup.
Local Nomad owner Lauren Danuser said 7% of her sales happen online, and the store’s cash flow heavily relies on brick-and-mortar profits.
“It’s a really, really hard decision to close,” she said. “We’re trying to shift our mindset and shift our sales to online.”
This means perhaps buying ads on Instagram and Facebook as well as ramping up marketing efforts on the store’s social media accounts and in email campaigns.
For Kathy Cano-Murillo, owner of Mucho Más Art Studio and Gallery in Phoenix and The Crafty Chica online store, this means posting about inventory on Instagram, fulfilling online orders and doing Instagram Live and Facebook Live sessions to engage customers and build community.
Her online store is “very busy,” she said, and she’s working on evolving the Mucho Mas website into an e-commerce platform. Most of their merchandise is made in Arizona by Latino artists, she said, 75% of it by herself, her husband Patrick Murillo and Emily Costello.
Pivoting away from in-person experiences is pushing small businesses to innovate, Cano-Murillo said, as they are forced to figure out how to maintain revenue.
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Now more than ever, we can really appreciate how small the world really is and the importance of coming together to support the Phoenix community. As small business owners, the decision to close our doors is never an easy one. We’ve come together as small businesses to discuss how we can continue to keep our customers, employees and local community safe. In the face of tough decisions, we have collectively decided to close our brick and mortars until at least March 30. As the COVID-19 situation changes, our plans may too. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In the meantime, staying connected to others is more important than ever when when it can’t be in person. So we will continue to reach out and try put a smile on your face while we’re all doing the best we can. Maybe let’s think of as an opportunity to discover and and support brands and business owners you may not have known in your community. All our online stores are still open for business, and each business plans to serve you in new and different ways. As always, your support means everything. We hope you and your families stay healthy. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ All the best, The Phoenix Retail Collective @gatherphxshop, @___noons, @antiquesugar, @bunkyboutique, @camelbackflowershop, @changinghands, @cosasphoenix, @deependvintage, @desertcrafted, @framedewe, @palabracollective, @galeana39, @halopiercing, @localnomadshop, @madeartboutique, @manorphx, @modernmanor, @mountsunny, @muse_apparel, @palabracollective, @practicalartphx, @shopfrances, @shopmodernique, @stinkweedsrecords, @strawberryhedgehogsoap, @vidamoulin, @curiousnatureshop, @purplelizardboutique2827, @retro_ranch, @sauvagephx, @phxgeneral
UrbAna, a 5-year-old Arcadia boutique, closed on Sunday, taking the lead from chain stores like Urban Outfitters. As a result, the Wellses have had to quickly “tweak” their website to sell inventory online.
While sales have gone down 40% since, he said, online orders have been consistent in the past few days, he said. He hopes to keep that momentum while people have other things on their minds.
“People do not need to buy stuff from me right now,” Brian Wells said. “(Customers) can definitely cut me out of their life.”
Closing stores at this time of year — “March, April, May, this is your meat and bones for Phoenix” — is not good for business, Wells said. He is worried about how businesses like his will be able to pay rent.
“The scary thing for retailers is what our landlords will be forced to do,” Wells said. “We’re out on a limb saying it’s our choice to be closed, so there’s no reason a landlord will work with me.”
Facebook stepped in this week with the launch of a small business grants program that provides “cash grants and ad credits to help during this challenging time,” according to its website. The U.S. Small Business Association has said it would offer “economic injury disaster loans.”
Made with Love, a semimonthly outdoor market in downtown Gilbert from September through April, has postponed its events until further notice. Each event hosts 3,000-7,000 people and 70 vendors selling locally handmade or designed goods, according to co-founders Maribeth Sublette and Cody Waltz.
Four more markets had been scheduled through mid-April. If vendors aren’t able to sell merchandise at these events, they will lose $250,000 in total profits through the rest of the season, Sublette and Waltz said.
In response, this week they rolled out an online marketplace months ahead of schedule to help participating businesses stay afloat in a time of social distancing.
“Our new website is not going to completely alleviate the financial hardships this pandemic is going to bring, but it is our sincerest hope that it helps,” Sublette and Waltz wrote in an email.
The rapidly evolving pandemic has caused some locally owned businesses in central Phoenix to band together and exchange information in a group chat, Local Nomad’s Danuser said.
She said she’s had to do some “worst-case scenario quick math” to see how long she can pay her few employees, who can work from home. However, an “outpouring” of support kept Local Nomad and other nearby stores busy fulfilling orders on Tuesday. Danuser hand-delivered some orders to customers’ doorsteps, she said, and was happy to save on the cost of shipping.
“We’re all feeling the love,” Danuser said.
Customers who are able to keep purchasing from local businesses will help owners pay their employees and keep their businesses open.
Those who cannot afford non-essential purchases can help by posting about the businesses’ online merchandise on social media, Danuser said.
“The more people who find out about local businesses, the more opportunity we have to stay open,” she said.
Brian Wells said support for small, locally run businesses is strong in the Valley.
“Phoenix 10 years ago couldn’t have survived like it can now,” he said. “Local business culture is a million times better than it was.”
Danuser, Wells and Cano-Murillo all said that purchasing gift certificates from local stores helps small business owners.
“It’s money in the bank” for them, Wells said, and helps owners keep their operations running.