While nobody knows what changes circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus will bring, one of the certainties is the need to continue supporting local businesses.
Even though social distancing and empty lobbies at some restaurants is becoming a temporary norm, Monroe County businesses are adapting to let the public know it’s still business as usual.
“Many are encouraging you to shop online with them, do a positive comment on social media or call and pick up something. It’s a return to more customer service, and we find our small businesses are willing to go the extra mile. They know how crucial it is and that people can’t get out,” said Aberdeen Main Street Director Ann Tackett.
In addition to store owner’s needs, municipalities are dependent on people continuing to support local businesses.
“Our biggest revenue is sales tax, and it’s what keeps our police departments and fire departments going,” said Nettleton City Clerk Dana Burcham.
Amory City Clerk Jamie Morgan illustrated how shopping local is vital to the fiscal health of the city.
“Half of the funds that make up the revenue, not derived from ad valorem taxes, in our budget are sales tax revenue. We receive on [a 10-year] average approximately $1,850,000 a year in sales tax revenue,” she said.
Going above and beyond
Whether customers are shopping casually or under pressure, small town merchants depend on their loyalty to survive. Several stores and restaurants throughout Monroe County have adjusted to offering online orders with curbside pickup.
Aubrey Raines Boutique in Amory, for example, offers free delivery inside the city limits. ShannAgainS in Amory is limiting shopping to online ordering but is offering 15 percent off purchases if a customer shows a receipt from a local business, which shows support for others.
“The customer can simply transmit an image by direct message to us,” said store owner Shannon Roberts.
On a whimsical note, purchases of more than $100 come with a free roll of toilet paper.
Some Aberdeen clothing stores are handling even more of their business online.
Dianne Hammack of Henry’s said she started her online presence two years ago and has found it even more beneficial now.
“Right now, we are closed theoretically because we are both senior citizens, and my husband has health issues. He is packing up tuxedos to be sent off, and we’re screening who comes in,” she said. “I’m going to the store from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for customers 60 and over, and we still have a lot picking up alterations. We have our online store, and a lot of my customers have my cellphone number so that I can send them pictures of merchandise that way, and it’s also on our Facebook page. We’re packing merchandise and shipping it the next morning free, even in Aberdeen.”
Robin Bounds, owner of Robin’s Unique Boutique, already had a strong online presence.
“If we didn’t, it would be rough. We have had a good many customers, nothing like we usually do, but it’s our online presence that keeps us going,” Bounds said. “We keep the amount of customers in our store limited and are promoting even more online, including with free gifts. People have responded very well. We have went drive-thru only at Currie’s Pharmacy and going above to make sure people are taken care of. We have to make sure for definite that part of the business is ready for whatever because our customers have to get their medication.”
Ashley Patterson said Ashley’s Children Boutique has also previously capitalized on Facebook sales.
“We have limited hours, and customers can call and we will run the packages out to them,” she said. “With older customers, we are glad to bring the merchandise out to their cars for them to look at. You can pay with PayPal and drive out and pick up the package. It’s a few extra measures, but we are willing to do whatever we can do.”
Last week before state officials ruled no more dining in at restaurants, the Cottage Tea Room in Aberdeen limited the amount of patrons inside the restaurant, urging curbside pickup and switching to all plasticware and paper plates, while also reducing its hours to 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We have cut out our plate lunch specials and have people just ordering off the menu, so we’re saving money there,” said owner Susan Langford. “We’re letting people come in and eat, but we’re limiting it to eight people to a room and those two tables are six feet apart. We are urging people to do to-go and curbside pickup when they can, and we’re trying to make any effort humanly possible to serve our customers. We are glad to deliver to their houses, and we have casseroles and desserts that are ready-made and will do what we can to get it to them.”
Brown Eyes Bakery in Amory keeps a daily supply of casseroles in three sizes available in addition to its daily lunch specials featuring sandwiches and cold plates. Owner Shanon Hyatt offers free local delivery for advanced orders and is also putting together weekly activity packages for families with small children with all the necessary supplies to decorate their own cookies.
Even though inside dining is temporarily closed during the duration of the coronavirus, outside dining is available when weather permits.
“We’re willing to fill any order. We’re here for what the community needs,” Hyatt said.
From the grocers’ side
One type of business that has yet to slow down while people are taking coronavirus precautions is grocery stores. At times, between restockings, shelves and coolers have been without certain products.
“Sales have been higher than usual due to the fact we’ve secured extra product and will continue to do so.” said Aberdeen Food Giant Manager Dewayne Johnson. “People are stockpiling items in fear of shortages. We may not have all of our variety. For example, we’ve got an aisle of tissue, but it may not be more than five brands.”
He said employees at the company’s warehouse in Tupelo are monitoring essential products as much possible.
“Our warehouse is allocated to so many cases, so we’ve got to order the most important items and fill in the odds and ends,” Johnson said.
From the safety end, Piggly Wiggly owner Joe McGonagill said when a shelf empties out in his stores, it is thoroughly cleaned before restocking. As another safety precaution, the meat department is scrubbed down daily, and checkouts are wiped down every 30 minutes.
Piggly Wiggly employees use their own bleach and water combination in order to conserve products such as Lysol and Clorox that are sold out much of the time.
“We bleached and cleaned all of our buggies, carry out carts and stock buggies. We scrubbed every meat tray,” McGonagill said.
Last week, Food Giant began temporarily devoting its first hour of business to cater to senior citizens. Additionally, a temporary change in store hours to 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. went into effect March 19. Another adjustment, like with several other retailers, is the presence of disinfectant stands at the deli and checkout aisles.
Johnson said products such as water, toilet paper, paper towels and certain cleaners are limited to three such items per customer.
“Milk, hamburger meat and bread are commodities in most demand. We message our customers on Facebook when stock comes in,” McGonagill said.