Some Culpeper County businesses are embracing alternative methods to do more than just survive, with the COVID-19 pandemic in its ninth month and showing no signs of letting up.
“Many of our local small businesses have an online shopping presence now,” said Paige Read, Culpeper’s director of economic development and tourism. “For those who are still not comfortable with in-store shopping, things like that are helping these businesses still reach them.”
Amy Hicks, owner of Seriously Sweet on Davis Street, said her business model has continued to change over the past several months.
“We’ve been on a solid pivot since March, but it’s an evolving process,” she said. “In March, of course, we did what everyone else did and went to curbside [pickup]. Customers would call us and place their orders, and we’d set a time and meet them as they pulled up in their vehicles. Then, as time passed, we started using our social media as an avenue to drive business.”
One of the virtual avenues Seriously Sweet has gone to is a build-your-own-cupcake option via its Facebook page. As customers log on, they can select the base, filling, toppings and special sugars, among other things, for their custom confection.
“We wanted to take advantage of that ability to reach people online,” Hicks said. “It’s been there for some time, but it’s really become incredibly valuable during this situation.”
Hicks, who has a health issue involving her lungs, has also made the pickup process contactless to provide more peace of mind for herself and her patrons.
“As more people were getting sick, doing curbside pickup in the traditional manner became an issue for me,” she said. “With my lungs, I couldn’t keep running outside, let alone touching people’s vehicles and opening their doors to give them their orders.”
Now, once customers select their pickup time, Hicks has their order waiting for them on a sanitized table sitting just outside Seriously Sweet’s front door. All orders come in packaging that sits for a minimum of two weeks between when Hicks receives it and when it’s used. It is then sanitized for good measure before the order is placed inside.
With the changes to her business model and added safety precautions, Hicks has been able to remain comfortable financially as 2020 draws to a close.
“November and December are traditionally your biggest months for most retailers,” she said. “And while things aren’t the same as they’ve been in past years, changing the way we do things to remain connected to our customers has meant that we’ll not only survive this pandemic, but come out on the other side of it doing well.”
Over at Shenandoah Garden Spot on Main Street, the delivery business has been a boon to the company’s fortunes.
“Our deliveries are through the roof right now,” said Greg Garr, Garden Spot’s owner. “That’s where a lot of our in-person business has now gone to. We’ll have people call us looking for a particular type of plant or plants, and we’ll immediately send them photos of what we have in stock. They tell us what they want, and we load it up and drop it off right at their front door.”
For those who are comfortable driving to the store, Garr & Co. ensure their experience is contactless.
“It’s a very similar process to delivery, only they pull up to the curb, call us and we bring their order outside,” Garr said.
Garden Spot is also expecting an uptick in sales after its first batch of Christmas trees was cut and delivered to the store on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re even making the Christmas-tree selection process safer and easier for everyone this year,” Garr added. “They can drive up and park their car, stay inside, and we’ll bring trees over to them. When they’ve found one they like, we’ll either load it into the back of their truck, strap it to the top of their car or deliver it to their home.
“At the end of the day, we just want people to know that we’re here to help them and do it as safely as possible,” he continued. “A smile and great service still go a long way.”
Miles away, across from Lenn Park in Stevensburg, Old House Vineyards, Distillery and Brewery initially took a hit when the coronavirus forced cancellations of events such as weddings, family gatherings, parties and conferences.
But that cleared the way for some small adjustments that have helped the business thrive in recent months, such as being able to utilize freed-up space for small picnics and wine tastings.
“We were fortunate that in a year where the best remedy for being able to do anything was space and sunshine, we had that in spades at Old House,” said Ryan Kearney, Old House’s owner. “We shut down for a few months at the beginning [of the pandemic], but we were able to gear back up quickly in June and continue to offer our wines, beers and spirits in a relatively relaxed picnicking environment, all outdoors, among the vines and beautiful scenery of the Culpeper countryside.
“We really have utilized our entire 165-acre farm,” he added. “If someone wanted to visit Old House and enjoy a glass of wine on a beautiful sunny afternoon without having to be within 100 yards of the nearest person, that was possible.”
Old House also added to its food offerings during the week, as Kearney found there was a growing market for that endeavor once Virginia moved into Phase 3 of its reopening in July.
“It used to be our main food offerings would be on weekends and the week was for people passing through town who might want to grab a quick wine tasting,” he said. “However, we found out that there was a significant portion of the population who wanted to go out during the week when it was not quite so crowded, so we adapted.”
Old House began offering brick-oven pizzas with extended hours on Mondays and Thursdays through the summer and fall, and a local chef came in every Friday afternoon.
“We added fall soups and chili on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, and during the weekends we continued to have rotating food vendors,” Kearney said. “It seemed to make everyone happy, and our weekday traffic improved significantly over previous years.”
Kearney noted that Old House is still finalizing its strategy for the winter months, and that he hoped it would have some announcements after Thanksgiving through its ever-growing social media presence.
Regardless of how well any business is doing at the moment, two factors are expected to buoy everyone’s sales data in the immediate future.
Paige Read said the Culpeper Visitor Center has temporarily reopened to support local businesses during the holiday season. This began this weekend and will continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through New Year’s weekend.
In addition to the Visitor Center’s reopening, Saturday, Nov. 28, will be Shop Small Saturday across the nation.
This year, the event’s tagline is “This holiday season looks a little different, but we can still share joy. Shop Small and support your favorite small businesses—both in-store and online—all holiday season long.”
“Studies have shown that local businesses recirculate a greater share of every dollar as they create locally owned supply chains and invest in their employees,” Read pointed out.
“By choosing to shop local and shop small, Culpeper residents can feel good about where their money goes. Data shows that local retailers return approximately 52 percent of their revenue back into the local economy, compared to just 14 percent for national chain retailers.”
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