Working Ahead of the Curve

“We were closed for a couple of weeks as a precaution, just doing counter sales. We opened online shopping carts so people can order online or pick up in store, we started doing home deliveries, and taking phone orders as well, so basically being people’s personal shoppers within the stores to limit contact and limit the foot traffic in the store,” said Mallory Connor, manager at Friendly Pets in Lee, NH.

With COVID-19 spreading across the world, states had originally decided to keep businesses closed to the public while only keeping essential businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, and pharmacies open. Now as some states start to reopen small retail businesses as well, state governors are enforcing new requirements for them in order to reopen. These businesses have been ordered by the New Hampshire Stay at Home 2.0 Order to make changes like requiring all employees to wear face masks, limiting the number of customers in store, and encouraging customers to stay at least 6 feet apart. Along with new state mandated changes, the previous, abrupt closures across the country have forced small retail businesses to adapt in order to still reach customers. Here in New Hampshire, the struggle to keep small businesses afloat is no different and local shops have been changing their methods by turning to curbside pickup, creating websites, making home deliveries, and more. 

John Svenson, owner of the Christmas Dove in Barrington, NH, has made similar changes to Friendly Pets. Svenson and his son have created a website and have been making home deliveries to local customers. “We’re still doing flower deliveries, but I don’t see [customers]. We just leave the arrangement on the doorstep or on the porch, knock on the door, and run because I’m 71 years old and I’m in that group that can get hurt [from COVID-19].”

Oyster River Cycle and Sport in Durham has also made changes to keep staff and customers staff during this time. Brian Keegan, who is the shop’s general manager, said that they have mainly had to change their hours and who is allowed in the store. “At this point, since we’re such a seasonal business, I haven’t actually hired anyone on yet for the year. I only brought back one person, very part-time, and he’s only working on Sundays when we’re not even open and he’s here by himself doing repairs and things like that. If anything, the hours really got reduced from where they could have been,” said Keegan. 

Friendly Pets has also taken sanitation precautions to go along with their social distancing measures. “We’ve shortened the length of our days so we have less employee contact and we can also take some time to make sure that at the end of every shift, our store is extra sanitized,” said Connor. 

“I know that some businesses have gone out of business, unfortunately. I’m sure it’s probably going to be hard for a number of small businesses. I think we have been fortunate because we are considered an essential store, so we’re able to stay open in limited capacity. We’re considered a pet grocery to keep everyone’s pets fed, so we’ve been able to keep our heads above water,” said Connor. 

Businesses are also trying to keep their customers happy. Connor said, “for the most part, I feel that everybody has been pretty good. There’s always going to be that handful of people that don’t have as much fear surrounding the circumstances and the virus and they might not take it as seriously, so there’s always going to be people that feel inconvenienced by it.” Both Svenson and Keegan agreed saying that their customers have also responded well to the changes they have been forced to make and that most of the customers have been very understanding in this time.

But as quarantine continues, it is taking emotional tolls on everyone, including workers. Parents like Keegan have had to alter their hours so that they can watch their kids. “I had to modify my schedule because I have two kids in elementary school and between my wife and I’s work schedules, I’ve just had to make that adjustment,” said Keegan. 

Svenson mentioned how much he misses his young grandchildren during this time. He said, “I feel badly for everybody. It’s a horrible situation, but the hardest thing for me, personally, is I can’t see my grandkids. I mean, I see them, but I can’t get near them, I can’t hug them, and someday you’ll realize that’s serious stuff.”

As some states start to partially reopen across the country, some stores’ workers have been appreciative of how their workplace has adapted. Connor said, “I think everybody really appreciated the owner being proactive in employee safety until things got more of a handle on it. It’s a moving target for everybody, so I think that everybody, for the most part, is happy with how things have progressed and how we have been flexible with new information that comes out every day.”