As the county enters Phase 2 of a slow reopen, some Redwood City merchants have turned to curbside pickup as a welcomed addition to business while others say the service comes with too many health hoops.
Pickled, a women’s fashion boutique on Broadway, has begun their own version of curbside pickup, operating solely by appointments for the time being said Dayna Marr, owner of the 17-year-old business.
By offering appointments, Marr said she and her team are able to limit the number of people gathering outside. She has also turned to FaceTime to virtually tour clients through merchandise not listed on the shop website, another new addition to the boutique.
“I think they’re excited to have that be an option and I don’t get the sense people are fearful to do curbside pickup. People know we’re doing everything in a safe way,” said Marr.
Offering curbside services has pacified customers craving the instant gratification of in-person shopping and gives the community hope that the county is taking steps toward some resemblance of normalcy, said Marr.
Curbside pickup has also boosted online engagement for Pickled but Marr said revenue is still down 80% as she is in what would have been one of her busiest seasons including Mother’s Day, spring break and graduation.
Nonetheless, Marr said she is staying positive having survived the Great Recession of 2008 and said social media has been her saving grace.
“I’ve been in retail for a very long time and have seen the highs and lows. This is no different,” she said. “We have to keep adapting to the change. That more than anything gives me comfort.”
Powering through misfortune
Milazzo, a longtime employee of Gelb Music on El Camino Real, said the shop has been busy fulfilling online orders for the past two months but business “fizzled” after opening its doors for curbside pickup.
“We were hoping for lines to be out the door as usual and even put tape out marking 6 feet of distance for people to stand on but so far it’s been pretty slow,” he said.
Massoud Badakhshan, the owner of Gelb Music, recently said goodbye to San Francisco’s cherished Haight Ashbury Music Center, closing its doors for good just before the pandemic forced many other businesses to also shutter. Although rent increases pushed the nearly 50-year-old store off Haight Street, Milazzo, an employee of both locations, said Badakhshan owns Gelb, building and all, and plans to power through the economic downturn.
“We’ll try to hold on forever. On Haight Street, rent was going up high and fast but here we’re going to weather the storm,” said Milazzo.
For Sherri Brown, the owner of Redwood City Florist located at 440 Woodside Road, offering curbside pickup would be a hassle not worth the effort. Her family-owned-and-operated flower shop is fulfilling a fraction of the orders it used to, dropping from nearly 40 arrangements per day to fewer than 10.
“Right now it’s easier to just do regular deliveries and to keep that going,” she said. “We don’t get enough orders to justify buying the gloves and masks and the plexiglass, to put out the 6 feet markers. We’d have to adjust our hours and you can’t always depend on someone showing up when they’re supposed to. It just doesn’t work out.”
Brown said she hopes the money her family has been saving can hold the business together for the next couple of months while they navigate loans and grant applications promising funds they have yet to receive.
Mimi’s Dog Grooming, a 70-year-old Redwood City institution at 55 Fifth Ave., has fallen behind on appointments due to her business not being deemed essential, something owner Mimi Combel said is a major detriment to her clientele.
“Not being essential is not healthy. We as groomers see what owners don’t see,” said Combel. “We’re the go-between between the vets and the owner and the vets don’t want to see a dirty dog.”
She said being shut down for eight weeks while mobile dog grooming businesses were still allowed to operate was an unfair rule. However, she is confident her clients will return, emotionally noting that she has received generous contributions from those who have rushed to book appointments now that services are permitted.
With a reduced staff, Combel said her team will have to work double time to get the 1,600 pets they service back in ideal shape. Doing so will prove to be difficult with the county social distancing order still requiring businesses to limit the number of people that may enter establishments and ensure patrons honor the 6 feet of distance guidelines.
“We really turned the shop upside down the week before. We bleached and Lysoled everything, wiped everything down,” said Combel. “We’re only seeing one dog at a time, spraying down every kennel after and it takes a little more time.”
In contrast, Ralph’s Vacuum and Sewing Center at 837 Main St. was deemed essential when sheltering orders were first announced and owner Ralph Garcia said the shop has seen its busiest days of its 42-year existence.
“Traditionally when people are struggling we do better because people try to get things fixed instead of buying a new one,” said Garcia.
The shop was expected to move from its current location by June to open back up in July in Woodside Plaza but the virus has disrupted construction on the new location leading Garcia to defy his landlord’s request to move. And, with business booming, Garcia feels closing would be a disservice to the community that has turned to him to repair sewing machines often used to make homemade cloth masks.
“We’re defying the lease to keep operating so our employees can keep working and we can keep open to the public,” said Garcia. “I’ve been doing this for 42 years and everything has always worked out and I don’t doubt this will be any different.”
The county order which took effect May 18 allows for select items to be sold like books, clothing, toys, shoes, home furnishings or flowers. Other businesses that may resume operations include those offering services that do not require close customer contact, such as pet grooming, dog walking, car washes, appliance repair and residential and janitorial cleaning and plumbing.