Customers at The Emporium in Castle Rock waited outside the front door at a “line starts here” sign and applied hand sanitizer before an employee let them in on May 7. They wore masks and checked …
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Customers at The Emporium in Castle Rock waited outside the front door at a “line starts here” sign and applied hand sanitizer before an employee let them in on May 7.
They wore masks and checked out from the other side of a plexiglass divider at the cash register.
The new safety measures are in place to help the store transition to in-person shopping amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The state's safer-at-home guidelines allowed service and retail businesses to reopen on May 1 if following proper safety measures.
Ownership at downtown fixtures The Emporium and The Barn said the pandemic has been a struggle, but it also forced they and their tenants to try new ways of doing business, and some of what they learned will be here to stay as they reopen to in-person shopping.
Elizabeth Villwock of The Emporium said the shopping venue swung into action during the shutdown. While The Emporium's businesses closed to in-person shopping, Villwock started offering shipping and made free deliveries.
Most unique, The Emporium did live sales on Facebook, similar to an auction. The online sales were such a hit The Emporium will probably continue them into the future, she said.
Villwock said the shutdown was hard on shops that depend on foot traffic.
“For us, we really pride ourselves on being a destination and providing so many things to shop for from one roof, and so when we want to be a point to visit that was definitely a challenge to rethink things,” she said.
As soon as The Emporium could, it reopened, making all the adaptations required by the state and Tri-County Health Department, she said.
“It's been such a breath of fresh air to get customers back in here and see faces again,” Villwock said.
Catherine Haigh, owner of The Barn, started preparing to reopen back in February by purchasing supplies needed to safely open doors — toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks and gloves. They require that all shoppers wear a mask and if a customer does not have one, The Barn provides it.
“We were ready, we were waiting on the governor and the county, and we were ready to and waiting daily with bated breath,” she said.
After opening on May 4, people have been respectful of social distancing requirements, she said.
“We were prepared to get on our microphone every once in a while, and say, `Attention shoppers, please remember we are social distancing here,' but we've never once had to do that,” Haigh said.
Haigh said she offered businesses rent credits — Villwock also said she did not charge her 60 businesses rent — to help get them through the shutdown. Many tenants at The Barn generated a stronger online presence through the pandemic, Haigh said, which she believes makes them a healthier business. The Barn houses between 25 and 30 independent businesses.
Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce President Pam Ridler said she's seen businesses get creative in adapting to COVID-19. She participated in one of The Emporium's live Facebook sales “and had a great time.”
She expects businesses will continue with some of the new skills they've learned during the pandemic, like those sales. The chamber also is making changes amid the pandemic. Participation in trainings the chamber offers more than doubled now that the chamber is offering that programming virtually, she said.
“The chamber is the same way, we are learning new ways of doing business,” she said.
The chamber is working with the town on a new campaign to encourage people to shop local and support businesses as society slowly reopens.
The theme, “put your money where your heart is,” will hopefully remind people to support local retail and service businesses, she said. Ridler believes businesses can and will come back stronger from the pandemic and that the ability to reopen to in-person shopping is a step in that direction.
“As I look at it, I believe it's giving hope that things are changing, getting better, hopefully getting back to what we consider normal,” she said.
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