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Locally-owned retail shops struggle during social distancing

Many have shut their doors due to lack of customers and to flatten the curve.
Credit: 13 OYS
Closed sign hangs on Books and Mortar in Eastown.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Locally-owned retail shops have been struggling the past week, as more people are adhering to social distancing, shrinking the client base. 

“It’s a struggle out here,” said Jenny Kinne, the owner of Books and Mortar bookstore in Eastown.

Kinne has shut the doors to the bookstore but remains committed to paying her two employees as long as she can. She’s encouraging online orders. Customers can have $2 delivery or order it to the store. There will be a pick up time a couple days a week.

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“Small business owners, we love our community,” said Kinne, “We live here, we give so much. Eighty percent of what I make in the store goes back to my life here in Grand Rapids, and my staff’s lives.”

Other stores in downtown Grand Rapids are missing the foot traffic that usually keeps them open.

“We opened during a recession,” said Shasta Fase, the owner of Old World Olive Company. “And we thought, 'wow, If we can make it through a recession, we’re doing really good.' And I think this has really tested us and other business owners.”

Credit: 13 OYS
Old World Olive Company remains closed downtown.

Fase said they have shut the doors temporarily on their location on Monroe Center. They are still open in the Downtown Market, but with less hours. She is also encouraging people to purchase online with delivery.

“We want to keep our employees safe, our customers safe,” said Fase. “But at the end of the day, there are payroll issues, bills that still come in.”

The owner of Gina’s Boutique, Gina Van Timmeren, said she’s concerned about the toll this time will take on locally-owned shops.

“If you are able to, and can, support small businesses,” said Van Timmeren. “I definitely encourage that because, unfortunately, I’m afraid a lot of them won’t be around after this. It’s really sad and hard to talk about.”

During this time, Gina’s is closed to the public. However, she is taking some clients on a call-ahead appointment basis.

“I do want to help with flattening the curve,” said Van Timmeren, “so I don’t want to be a place where people can think they can get fresh air and stop in.”

Credit: 13 OYS
Gina's on Monroe Center.

Some stores are also getting creative with their social media following. Kinne said she started a reading list for the Books and Mortar Facebook Page.

“We have a lot of great books on how to get through something like this,” said Kinne, “Writers have been talking and writing about global crisis forever. So, it’s a great time to pick up a book. It also keeps you connected to humankind, while we’re all in quarantine, so it helps you feel not so isolated.”

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