By Rob Peterson
The 2020 quarantine was a significant disruption to businesses, especially to smaller ones which rely on walk-in customers to keep the doors open.
This disruption caused local entrepreneurs to work harder and get creative. It was a difficult period, “But you can’t pout,” said Rita Sertic, the energetic co-owner of Windfall coffee house and Apple Knockers Ice Cream Parlor.
For some, quarantine made for an opportune time to get projects done. Distant Whistle Brewery finished a planned expansion of the bar; the Hide-A-Way completed annual maintenance projects that would have required some closure to the public; and Windfall poured its outdoor patio, a project it decided to start “the Friday before we re-opened,” said Sertic with a laugh.
Virtual projects were accomplished as well. Carley Bosker, owner of Silo Chic clothing store, was already planning on adding online sales back into the mix. “I started this as an online store, but it took a backseat when I opened the brick-and-mortar shop,” she said. She has leveraged a large social media following to host live sales, where her VIP members can order items on Facebook and pay through her website.
Wrapped in Gratitude owner Kim Crites used the downtime to start an online store from scratch, even while tending to her ailing father. Crites posted 500 products on her website, most of them items intended to lift the spirits. “Most orders were from women buying gifts for other women,” she said, adding that the gifts could include a personalized note.
Apple Knockers also added an online store so that customers could order their food ahead and have it delivered to their car when they arrived in the parking lot. The owners chose a stormy Sunday to re-open, thinking it would be slow enough that they could keep up. The enthusiastic response from customers proved them wrong. “We were running from car to car in the thunderstorm,” said Sertic. Some orders took up to an hour, but customers were understanding of the predicament.
Even those who did not create online shops were creative in the ways they maintained service levels. Distant Whistle ran out of growlers, the large glass jugs that customers use to bring beer home, and they were backordered through the supplier. Some customers brought in their own growlers, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with demand. So, owner Dane Bosel started used his canner for the first time – a one-can-at-a-time canner. “I’d spend Monday filling 240 cans,” he said. “They’d sell out in just a few days.”
As restrictions eased, the retail shops in Vicksburg started meeting with customers by appointment. Silo Chic has since opened its doors for regular walk-in traffic. “It’s been busy,” said Bosker. “Including our online sales, the numbers are similar to last year.”
Workshops are a big part of what Wrapped in Gratitude offers, so Crites is working on videos that will allow customers to learn how to complete a project from the safety of their home. “I will be teaching people how to create mantra paintings,” she said. They are paintings based on a word or phrase that can inspire people when things get tough. The videos will be posted soon, and supplies will be available on her website.
Since the restaurants are only allowed to operate indoors at half-capacity, Distant Whistle and Hide-A-Way are turning to the streets for extra seating area. The Village of Vicksburg allowed both establishments to make use of parking spaces for a patio; the Village even loaned them picnic tables. “The additional outside seating brings us to full capacity,” said Hide-A-Way General Manager Jared Tinklenberg.
A continuing struggle for the restaurants is the availability of food items and the increased cost of beef. “We won’t be doing our Friday night steak special for a while,” said Tinklenberg. “I want to give people a good value, and the price of steak is just too high.” Customers will be happy to know, however, that the perch and Reuben are both available.
Apple Knockers and Windfall have seen shortages as well. “It’s a chance to expand and put some new items on the menu,” said Sertic, who is training a new cook how to prepare the family recipes they serve.
While everyone had a different approach to staying productive during quarantine, there was one common theme: The chorus of every business owner was how supportive the local community has been. Customers have showed understanding about the changes throughout the reopening process, and they showed up to bolster sales.
By Rob Peterson