After getting creative with deliveries and online offerings, Twin Cities retailers are seeing a return from local customers.
For many, the first pandemic shutdown in 2020 was a time to slow down, but not for Paul Horan of Gear Running Store in Edina.
After the store closed on the first statewide order, Horan sent his cell phone number to a list of 7,000 people in his email database. Customers quickly started calling to place orders. Horan got into his car to make deliveries, sometimes going to Victoria, 40 kilometers from the store.
“Everyone was bored doing nothing, but I was busy all day,” Horan said.
To survive the pandemic, small retailers in Minnesota and the country have made major changes. For many, the first and most obvious decision was to go local, welcoming and serving the customers closest to them.
At the start of the pandemic, Horan found customers anxiously poking their heads through front doors and asking him to leave their new running shoes outside. “They could still get personalized service, albeit a bit more remote,” he said.
Some local outreach efforts were temporary, such as the Horan Depots. But in many cases, they have become permanent strategies and have increased the propensity of many consumers to support their neighbors in business. Today, Horan said his company is on track to beat 2019 numbers.
What has always energized small clothing retailers is the personalized service they offer to ensure the right fit, accessorize an outfit or even order a special item.
“When you buy a dress, it’s not like buying a t-shirt or a sweater where you just know your size and order it, because the dresses – the way they go – are more complicated,” said Nancy Shank. de Dugo, which means “get dressed, get out.”
Her boutique, specializing in mother of the bride dresses and high-end athletic wear, has been downsized from the Galleria to a smaller location at 50e and France to Edina. Regular customers have returned and it attracts new customers who turn to the shops for something different.
“We don’t have a terribly Midwestern vibe, but we do fashion for Minneapolis,” Shank said. “It’s not overkill, but if you want a little swish or a classic with a twist, we’ve got it, and you don’t have to look like everyone else who shoppers in chain stores.”
Some small business owners have made tough choices leaving neighbors they had served for years.
Primp, a group of women’s boutiques, closed last year in the Nokomis neighborhood of Minneapolis, a move influenced by the unrest in the city, and in Rochester, where construction had hurt business. Owner Wesley Uthus has stepped up Primp’s online shopping.
Its remaining five stores selling denim, dresses and other clothing aimed at women aged 25 to 34 are now on track to surpass 2019 sales. Uthus said it is seeing increased traffic at its suburban locations as customers shop closer to home.
“Now that people have vacations and weddings, we are selling so many more dresses than we usually would at this time of year,” she said.
The MartinPatrick3 store, a staple in the North Loop district of Minneapolis, is experiencing the same boom.
“There is still a lot of traffic here,” said CEO Dana Swindler. “The restaurants are open. The Hewing [hotel] is fully open again with breakfast and lunch and dinner. It all makes a difference. “
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A comprehensive look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape for small businesses in Minnesota.