On May 7, the Sonoma County health officer revised the county’s shelter-in-place order to allow some retail businesses, such as clothing stores and bookstores, to reopen for curbside pick-up and delivery. While the partial reopening of some businesses will allow for expanded sales, for some of the businesses in Cloverdale’s downtown core, a portion of which operate by selling clothing, the change brings with it a lot of questions.
“I honestly feel like a lot of us really don’t know what we should be doing, and we have to seek out our own information,” said Erin Turko, owner of Erin Mavis and Heart City on East First Street.
She wondered why the county hasn’t reached out to people with specific business licenses with more direct instruction on what the shelter-in-place order did and didn’t allow for.
When Turko read the county’s initial shelter-in-place order (not the revised one), she interpreted it as already allowing some businesses to deliver, since the order references businesses doing the “minimum necessary activities to maintain and protect the value of the business’ inventory … and related functions.”
Turko said that she interpreted delivery as doing one of the necessary activities to ensure that her business is able to continue operating.
“Under the order we were allowed to do whatever we needed to keep our business sustainable, and I viewed delivery as part of that,” she said.
Since she was already delivering and shipping orders, the expanded county order means that there's one more job that needs to be done — but she doesn’t have more people to do it. Since the start of the shelter-in-place order, Turko has been running her two businesses with the help of her family, since it’s the best way to decrease the number of people at risk.
“Throwing this extra job at us with curbside — it is not a plus — I think it was a way of appeasing people who were pushing for things to be open. Now it means I can’t be out doing deliveries, because I have to be waiting here for people who are picking up,” she said.
Since the shelter-in-place order was implemented, Turko has also been shipping items from her businesses, including sticker packs for community members and students, ordered by people both in Cloverdale and outside of it. While business has been impacted by the shut down, operating her business through shipping items has helped.
“We sort of thought, ‘Oh no, Easter is going to be this huge thing’ … so we decided to offer complimentary shipping or delivery of Easter baskets and we promoted that on Facebook or Instagram and we sent them out. We were busy just packing baskets and delivering them, and it really gave us morale,” she said.
All together, Turko said that she ended up shipping a total of around 1,200 Easter baskets, ranging from small $5 sticker packs to large boxes of items.
Both Erin Mavis and Heart City have a strong and active social media presence, and have since before COVID-19 hit the county. Because of this, Turko said that she anticipates the biggest impact on her stores will come after everything reopens.
“Truthfully for us, I think that the impact we’re going to see is when we reopen. I think people were more of a captive audience when they’re sitting at home (and other avenues like Amazon weren’t shipping),” she said. “I hope that people will realize that we still really need sales and support to bounce back from being closed for two months.”
When asked about the new shelter-in-place direction, Kelley Voss from Voss Signature Vintage on North Cloverdale Boulevard echoed Turko’s confusion.
“To me it’s not much of a change, because selling clothing curbside was really a head-scratcher,” she said. “I think whoever made that decision knows nothing about retail or shopping.”
To try and make a positive situation out of a confusing one, Voss said that she’s trying to think of ways she can follow the county order while making the shopping experience easier for her customers.
“What I’m working on doing is moving all of my merchandise forward so it’s easily viewable from windows and doorways,” she said. “I’m thinking about rolling a rack out with hand sanitizer and just having things very sparsely organized on the rack … so people aren’t breathing into them and don’t have to work to look at them.”
She’s also working on an online store, which she hopes to have up by May 15. Through the shop, people will be able to have items mailed, delivered or available for pick up, and while shopping online won’t be the same experience as getting to touch and try on pieces of clothing, Voss is hoping that including measurements with each posting will help people get an idea of if a specific piece of clothing will work for them.
The impact of the shelter-in-place order is the most recent in a string of hits to county business owners, beginning with successive fire seasons and a flood.
“We’ve certainly gone from taking some hits from several fire seasons and then this and having to close the doors overnight and switch the business to more of an online business,” Voss said. “I feel like the impact has been such that the whole retail industry will never be quite the same. I’m staying optimistic that small boutiques may survive, but I think the malls are going to really suffer.”
Voss Signature Vintage, she’s hoping, will benefit from a growing trend of people looking to purchase used clothing and embrace “slow fashion.” Accompanying that trend, however, is also a rapidly growing web market for used clothes, creating more of a competition between sellers.
“I’m not sure how to open the doors when folks can’t come in,” Voss said.
For The Outpost, a store focusing on both regular clothes and clothing for trades such as construction, the timing of the county-mandated store closure in March was less than ideal.
“Just like everybody else, it’s been devastating,” said co-owner Ronnie Campos. “Traditionally as a retailer, January and February are always tough months to get through. March is when things start opening up, and in April you’re looking toward spring.”
Right when things should have been looking up, The Outpost had to close its doors.
“Right when those things always start looking upward, we were getting out of winter, we got nailed,” Campos said.
Now that they’re allowed to reopen — Campos said that their doors are fully open, since they provide gear to essential workers — Campos is hoping business will start to pick up. The shop provides clothing to a lot of construction and vineyard workers, and while they’ve seen the latter come in, the slight delay in construction projects means that they haven’t seen many folks in construction come by.
“People are working — the vineyard workers are working, firefighters are still working, police officers are still working, they need their essential items to do their job, which we sell,” he said. “We’re fully stocked, let's just hope the customers will be able to work.”
When asked to reflect on what he thinks the impact of COVID-19 will be on the retail industry, Campos had a somber take.
“I’ve been in retail my whole life, I grew up in a retail store, and I don’t think the majority of retail stores will come out in the end,” he said.
Talking specifically about The Outpost, he said that a life spent working and managing retail operations has helped him and his wife Brandi ensure the store’s ability to bounce back, “We are extremely blessed, Brandi has been smart over the years and we’re OK.”