Businesses in downtown Ludington are finding creative options for allowing customers to continue to access merchandise during the COVID-19 pandemic, including curbside pick-up options and more.
Some retailers have been making pick-up available intermittently since the start of the shutdown, while others started more recently, following a lifting on restrictions for retailers deemed non-essential.
Mariellen’s Hallmark Shop at 116 E. Ludington Ave. is one retailer that is coming up with creative solutions for customers. The greeting card and gift shop recently reopened in a limited capacity, offering curbside pick-up and more.
With the highly visual nature of the store’s merchandise, adjusting to the new way of doing things has been something of a challenge, but employees are eager to assist customers in any way possible, according to Alyssa Hoekwater, store manager.
“Obviously we can’t let people in, but we’re essentially doing personal shopping for people,” Hoekwater told the Daily News. “We have texting line posted outside the store for people to make orders. If someone’s looking for something specific, we can find that for them.”
Hoekwater said Hallmark has used photo exchanges via text so customers can see the greeting cards in order to make the right choice.
Not everyone has access to the internet — or even to a mobile device capable of receiving text messages and images, however, and it’s been somewhat challenging to meet those people’s needs.
“There were some obstacles in the beginning just getting used to things. We did get some phone calls from people who don’t have the internet or a smartphone,” Hoekwater said.
For those individuals, Hoekwater said she’s happy to talk a customer through the process on the phone. Also, people can just knock on the door or wave through the window and employees will assist them from the other side of the glass.
“One woman was looking for thinking-of-you cards. She gave me a heads up, and I picked out some options for her. I showed them to her through the window,” Hoekwater said. “All of our puzzles that we have are in our front windows, so people walking by going for walks have been ‘window-shopping,’ I guess you could say. They’ll point to what they want and we’ll get it for them.”
There’s been a bit of a learning curve, but the store is acclimating.
“It’s very unique. It’s unlike anything I’ve done before. But we’re kind of making the best of it, and we’re here for the community,” Hoekwater said. “We’re thankful for the customers who have shopped with us. (Business) has been steady, so we’re just very, very appreciative.”
The store reopened May 1, and is open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday form 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The number to place orders via text is (231) 335-7335.
The Book Mark at 201 S. Rath Ave., owned by Bob Kosanovich, and Nautical Yarn at 108 S. Rath Ave., owned by Bob’s wife, Carol, are also utilizing different options for customers.
Both have implemented curbside pick-up and more.
“Ever since we had the order from the governor to close, we’ve been doing curbside (pick-up),” Bob said. “We do it… for merchandise that is not coffee or drinks — so, books and things of that nature (are available).
“The customer calls and requests something and we make an arrangement where they come to the store, stay on the outside, call in and we take the book out to them.”
There’s more to come, too.
Book Mark is getting ready to upgrade its online presence as well.
“We’re just about to launch an online bookstore,” Kosanovich said. “Probably by Monday, a customer will be able to go through the online website, and order online using some forms. So the amount of personal contact will be even less.”
The website — at www.bookmarkludington.com — is in the beta stage right now, according to Kosanovich, but it currently has about 3,000 items in its inventory, with more being added all the time.
Nautical Yarn, which is at 108 S. Rath Ave., has been staying in the loop with customers as well.
“We have curbside pick-up. We had that initially, then when one of the governor’s executive orders stopped it, we stopped. We started up again a couple weeks ago (when it was allowed again),” Carol said.
Nautical Yarn is also still hosting its knitting groups via the Zoom video-conferencing app at 6 p.m. on Mondays and at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Carol said. More virtual projects will be coming, too.
Backstage Hobbies & Games is offering curbside pick-up at both its Ludington and Manistee locations. Pickup is available from noon to 2 p.m. Mondays, and from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays at the Ludington store. Call ahead at (231) 233-6729 to place an order. Visit www.manistee.backstagehobbies.com to place an order at the Manistee store.
Hoekwater and Kosanovich both said Ludington’s Downtown Development Authority has been helpful, noting that the DDA is sharing new and relevant information with store owners about statewide issues and how they affect small businesses.
“Jen Tooman and Heather Tykoski have been phenomenal,” Hoekwater said. “They’ve been… breaking down what’s important for businesses and what’s happening with the state, CDC. We’re very thankful to them.”
The DDA hosted a Zoom meeting Friday to help businesses make plans for using outdoor spaces to assist customers. Tooman told the Daily News more information would be available soon.