As the COVID-19 crisis continues, many locally owned retail stores are having to change their business operations in order to maintain revenue while meeting state and federal guidelines for social distancing.
A shelter in place order issued by Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday adds to the uncertainty as some local business owners are looking for creative ways to make ends meet and do their part to help protect the public.
Holly Coleman, owner of Good Hope General Merchandise on Main Street, has been running her gift shop and floral business by taking orders over the phone, making local deliveries, and shipping orders to customers who want to avoid going out into public.
Coleman had been staying open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, but she said most of her orders were placed by phone.
Coleman said that she has been posting daily advertisements on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in order to show off her latest inventory, and to keep revenue coming in for the time being.
She also plans to launch a company website soon which will allow customers to make purchases as well.
This week Good Hope also started to advertise a "Fashion Box" program, where customers can try on a selection of clothing at home before they buy it from the store.
"This is something that we have always done, but we have never really advertised it before," Coleman said. "Basically we will do the shopping for you after asking a couple of questions, like the type of occasion if you are going to a wedding or on vacation, and what your personal style is. You can pick up the box here at the curbside, or we can deliver it locally or ship it to you so you can try everything on. After that, you have three days to decide. You just keep what you love and return the rest."
Aside from the fashion and retail part of her store, Coleman also maintains a wedding registry for local brides, as well as a flower shop in the back, all of which have taken a hit from COVID-19.
"We have had a huge decrease in sales over the last couple of weeks because of the virus...we are down by almost half," she said. "Usually by this time of the year we have customers who are getting married and having showers, or the schools are having proms. Everybody that I know of has canceled their proms in this area, and most of the girls on my registry have either changed their wedding dates, or don’t know when they are going to do them."
Coleman said she hopes with the Easter season coming soon her sales will pick up.
Another downtown business in Yazoo City, Downtown Marketplace, is often a big attraction for visitors with over 9,000 square feet of booth spaces to explore.
Owners Jet and Vernette Griffin are working harder than ever to keep customers coming in by ensuring that the emporium is a safe place to shop.
"We are trying to do anything that we can to help people," said Jet. "We are bringing stuff outside to cars who are parked to pick them up, and we are just doing the best we can to accommodate people. Vernette has been doing lots of phone orders and shopping for people and shipping it to them as much as possible."
Working as a team to keep the massive space open, the Griffins have been working to post a variety of items offered in the store each day on social media to keep customers calling in or dropping by to make purchases.
"Right now things are slower, but we are still here pushing and trying to figure out different ways to keep us going," he said. "We have good days sporadically here and there, but most of the time it's a loss of about 50 percent or more these days."
Griffin said that since Downtown Marketplace is so large, customers will have no problem maintaining the proper social distancing procedures while getting some retail therapy.
"Us small business people, we want to be here, we really do," he said. "We love everybody to death, and I understand the fear and all, but you can feel safe in here, and we want to help everyone and be there for them."
One business on Main Street that has not seen a decline in sales is Ferguson's Furniture.
Owner Zach Richardson said that the business has made some necessary changes in its operation in order to keep his employees safe from the Coronavirus.
"So far we have stopped doing in-home deliveries to our customers," he said. "We will bring it to the house and to the front door, but not inside."
Richardson said that he and other employees have been working curbside to take payments at the door and accepting them over the phone to reduce their interaction with customers as much as possible.
"We started doing payments at the door and over the phone at the first of the month, and we will probably continue doing that from now on," he said. "We haven't made any changes to staff, and our business hours are still the same. And customers can still come inside and look at the inventory, but we are only doing it one person at a time."
Richardson said that while his appliance sales have increased with the demand of freezers, he is now having difficulty getting shipments of new inventory to the business.
"We have sold out of freezers twice in the past week, so that is a positive thing," he said. "But where we have been affected is our ability to get merchandise back into the store, since manufacturers and distributors are shutting down. It's just getting harder to bring new stuff in when people need it."
Another local business being affected by COVID-19 is Black's Fabric and Department Store on 15th Street in Yazoo City.
Owners Marion Davis and Nora Pierce said that despite local efforts to support the store, business is still down about 50 percent.
"Our sales have been cut in half just about," said Pierce. "We even had a negative day one day, and we have never once had a negative day in all our years of business."
Currently, Black's has been able to maintain its business by selling fabric at half-price, and elastic at ten cents per yard, but the owners still have some cause for concern.
"Those are the main items that we have been selling, since local people have been making masks, and we also have income coming in from customers who are paying on their accounts, so that is helping," Pierce said. "What is hurting us now is that we have sold out of elastic and the companies that we are trying to order from have closed down. We also had other shipments that were coming in, but those companies have stopped those shipments for the time being. We can last maybe another few weeks like this, but after that we will have to start making decisions."
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, more people have been staying at home to avoid the pandemic. The upside to being homebound is that families are taking the time to make home improvements to lawns, gardens, and landscaping, or are taking an interest in starting up a small homestead or farm.
Because of this spike in home improvement projects, Davis Feed and Farm Supply on Highway 3 in Yazoo City has nearly tripled its sales in gardening and farming supplies, but had to make changes to their business operation in order to promote social distancing, reduce crowds, and help stop the spread of Coronavirus in the community.
"We had to do something because we were still having tons and tons of people coming here and doing business with us since we sell essential supplies," said owner Judy Davis. "It was hard to follow the social distancing rule because this is already a busy time of year for us, and with so many people at home or out of work, there are more people than ever who are gardening, farming, and fishing these days."
The Davis's soon found a solution to their problem, and found a way to meet the state guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus by opening a drive through with three lanes around the business catered to the feed store and garden center.
"We had to slow down and find a better way to do business because we weren't doing our customers any favors by having so many people in the store at one time," she said. "It was a little hard at first to change over into the drive through, but since then it has been working pretty well and I think the customers have appreciated it. This way we are still able to help our customers get the essential supplies that they need while keeping everyone safe."