Shoppers are returning to downtown Carlisle businesses a week after Cumberland County moved into the yellow phase, and business owners are optimistic the trend will continue.
Richard Lawson, owner of the Carlisle Antique Mall, said the response to its reopening has been “phenomenal.”
“We just kept letting folks know that we’re here, we miss them, and they came back. They came when we opened up,” he said.
The store held its soft opening during the Christmas season. It was filling up with vendors prior to its anticipated grand opening in March. A few days before that event, Gov. Tom Wolf called on businesses to close down.
Lawson didn’t waste the time the shutdown presented, doubling his effort to make the mall a destination spot. The Carlisle Antique Mall reviewed its processes to optimize the customer experience. It also tweaked its slate of vendors to make sure they all fit with the branding of the antique mall.
Work was done on the back half of the venue, which will be used for a farmer’s market, flea market and a place for vendors to hold special sales events. The opening for the venue, dubbed “Eppley’s Market” will be held on June 20.
Lawson said they also stocked up on personal protective equipment, filling a conference room with hand sanitizer, disinfectant and gloves. He also researched guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wolf’s order to make sure the antique mall would be ready when it was time to reopen.
“We had no fear, and our customers take it seriously,” he said. “We have a socially conscious community and that’s been helpful.”
Guided by experience
On the other end of the spectrum, Justin Walters, who has been running JW Music for 32 years, went into the shutdown with a plan fine-tuned from his years of experience in the business.
“We moved to more Facebook posts, social media, online sales. We’ve been shipping instruments all over the country,” Walters said.
In those posts, Walters promoted ukuleles, of all things. It’s an instrument that he said has been trending in popularity. Combine that with adults who may have some time on their hands due to being stuck at home and it was a recipe for success.
Walters said the shop sold more than 120 ukuleles during the shutdown.
As the only school instrument supplier in the county, Walters had a client base in the schools that asked them to continue doing repairs since the students were doing virtual lessons. Lesson studios at JW Music also went virtual, allowing the store to continue about 75% of its usual lesson schedule.
“We’ve been working harder during the last two months to keep business rolling, but it’s been social media. It’s been internet sales. It’s been packing and shipping, not the walk-in business,” Walters said.
That’s starting to turn around now.
“People are starting to come out of the woodwork so we’re seeing an upward trend of walk-in business,” he said.
The timing of the reopening comes at an odd time for JW Music since business usually slows down after Memorial Day.
“Everything’s odd. It’s out of place,” he said.
Walters said his longevity in business gave him perspective in the current crisis. The store saw everything shut down in the shock that followed the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and it went through the recession of 2008.
“We’ve been through cycles of ups and downs,” he said. “We’ve been through that and weathered that and retooled and figured out what people want.”
Optimistic for the future
Up the street in what was a Woolworth’s back in the day, C-Luv Thrift falls somewhere between the Carlisle Antique Mall and JW Music. The shop marked its first anniversary during Ice Fest, only a few weeks before the shut down.
Owners George Kretzing and Mary Gerard Carlton sell consignment and donated items in the store with an eye on helping the Carlisle community.
Carlton said the store often makes donations to organizations like the Family Life Center, and what they can’t keep fills a Community Aid bin whose proceeds go to Maranatha Carlisle.
Kretzing said they also support local sports teams. The store buys ads in programs and has sponsored basketball teams in the Carlisle Summer League.
“We really don’t keep or make a lot. We give a lot away,” Carlton said. “We have both been really blessed and grew up in Carlisle and love Carlisle. We just want to give back.”
Kretzing and Carlton said the shop was beginning to hit its stride when the shutdown came along. Carlton was working with Dickinson College’s freecycle program and the shop was preparing for Jessica’s Closet, a program that offers prom or homecoming dresses to students for free.
“We were on a roll,” Kretzing said.
“And then everything shut down,” Carlton said.
Putting items online to sell didn’t work well because their store is filled with single items rather than an inventory of the same item. They posted a few albums showcasing their items on Facebook and maybe sold $150 worth of stuff over two months, Carlton said.
“It made it hard and, of course, people were scared. They couldn’t come in,” she said.
Kretzing said the store’s loyal customers started coming back when they opened last Friday with protective measures in place. The dressing rooms have been closed. Access to the store is through the front door only and everything is wiped down often.
They’re not currently taking consignments, but that’s OK because it allows them to work through the backlog of items they’ve had ready to sell from even before the COVID-19 crisis, Carlton said.
That also gives customers the assurance that everything in the store was donated or put on consignment before the pandemic struck.
Even with customers starting to roll back in, Carlton said it would be great to have an event downtown to bring people out.
“There is certainly a population that has been waiting to get back out and about,” she said. “But the festivals are a huge draw.”
Events or no, Kretzing believes the shoppers will be back.
“I’m optimistic. I’m always optimistic,” he said.
Email Tammie at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TammieGitt.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.