Challenged Darien businesses offer special services, make accommodations during crisis
Darien Toy Box owner Bill Jensen described the quiet outside his line of Post Road stores on Wednesday, March 18. He counted parked cars — one — and was identifying the Post Road businesses with lights on to The Darien Times.
Given the social distancing and quarantining encouraged by local and state officials — Darien’s many independently-owned small businesses are facing a tough challenge.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, some have made special accommodations to make customers feel more comfortable during their shopping experience while trying to keep themselves sustained.
Jensen said while it might be tempting to order via Amazon delivery for residents, he and others can offer the same social distancing shopping experience. Many residents seeking Legos or puzzles to help occupy and educate children stuck in the house can call him and he will leave their packages outside the store for pick up. He also indicated a new shipment including scooters had arrived on Thursday for curbside pickup.
More info: www.darientoybox.com
Another such business is Wild Birds Unlimited, at One Ledge Road, which is offering both free curbside pickup service and free local delivery service.
Owner Joe Warren said, “While birdseed isn’t a life or death situation, for many seniors who are now homebound, being able to look out their window and see the birds on their bird feeder might be the only activity they get.”
Aside from restaurants, some places in town where seniors may have previously gathered, such as Darien’s Mather Center, YMCA and library, are now closed.
Inside the store, Warren said he keeps a bottle of hand sanitizer and Fantastic on the countertop, and sanitizes everything often.
More info: https://darien.wbu.com
Barrett Bookstore, at 6 Corbin Drive, is another business that plans to remain open during the pandemic.
Owner Sheila Barrett said the store makes free home deliveries every day.
“We can leave items in their mailbox or follow their instructions for where to drop them off,” she said.
The store also offers free curbside delivery.
“There is street parking next to our door, so we can come out and bring the books to your car,” Barrett said.
In addition, the store has installed a remote door opener for customers who are going in and coming out, so they don’t have to touch the door handle.
Inside the store, Barrett has upgraded cleaning services to include frequently disinfecting countertops, and wiping down registers and swipe machines.
“We are encouraging people to do credit card transactions,” Barrett said. “We have waived our minimum purchases, which are usually $5, to any credit card purchase amount.”
They also accept Apple Pay.
More info: www.barrettbookstore.com
Darien’s clothing stores are also facing a challenge but have changed some policies and services to handle shoppers’ needs during this time.
Morley is currently open and will accommodate shoppers by appointment. Manager Laura Trask said the store has many loyal customers and she and her staff serve as stylists for several. They can also reach out and have a Facetime appointment, shop new arrivals on Instagram and Trask, which is also accommodating home deliveries.
“They rely on us to get what they are used to and what they like — we all have to support each other. I’m really grateful for their support,” she said.
Right now, Morley’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More info: https://shopmorley.com .
Helen Ainson is open for regular hours, but owner Erica Jensen said a new service, Helen Ainson at Home, has just been launched.
“One can call the store and tell us what your needs and desires are or you can go online and tell us your size, your color preferences and the type of clothing you are looking for and we will put together a trunk of clothing and deliver it to your door in the morning and pick it up at the end of the day,” she said.
Those interested can call 203-655-9841 or email email@example.com.
More info: https://www.helenainson.com/
A Little Something White, a bridal boutique in Darien, already operates by appointment only, which is different from traditional retail. Owner Ashley Krauss said the store is reducing appointment volume to space out appointments and have fewer people in the waiting room. Appointment cancellation fees are being suspended indefinitely and those who make appointments are asked to bring only one guest. Disinfecting of the common areas is being done several times a day.
Krauss added that some team members who live with high-risk individuals are working from home and the store is evaluating things on a day to day basis.
“We feel that we being diligent in cleaning the store and in adhering to the “less than 10 people” rule, which is why we haven’t completely closed to outside appointments,” Krauss said.
“If we get to the point of having to close to outside appointments, or managers plan to continue to come in to make sure we can receive shipments for bride’s weddings who are taking place later this year and to place orders that are coming in,” she said.
Tina Dragone Clothing is offering a gift card sale. Purchase a gift card between now and April 1 and receive 10 percent off a purchase at the time of redemption. Gift cards may be purchased in the store or by phone. Call 203-655-0289. More info: https://tinadragone.com/
Additional businesses that have made special accommodations for customers include Nielsen’s Florist & Garden Shop on Boston Post Road.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, March 17, Nielsen’s wrote while the store will remain open, it has set up its sales register outdoors in an effort to accommodate social distancing.
The store is also offering no extra charge for delivery of flowers to anyone in town.
More info: https://www.nielsensflorist.net/
Drivers Unlimited, owned by Darien resident Randy Klein, is offering free pick-up and delivery. If you need an order picked up from grocery stores, pharmacies or any specialty shop, please call 203-656-8400.
Drivers Unlimited is also offering personal transportation services at new reduced rates during this challenging time. Local transportation with unlimited stops is now $47 an hour, trips to major cities for $65 an hour, and commuting from Stamford/Darien/New Canaan to New York City from $160 to $170. More info: firstname.lastname@example.org or driversunlimited.com.
Darien Cheese and Fine Foods is also offering curbside pickup for orders. It is also offering to vacuum seal cheeses and meats for a long shelf life. Call 203-655-4344. More info: https://www.facebook.com/DarienCheeseFineFoods/
Ring’s End, on West Avenie, is sanitizing all counters and electronic computers, and any other surfaces customers may be touching.
“We are spraying all day long and wiping everything down with disinfectant,” said Pete McDonald, manager at Ring’s End.
In addition, the store is practicing social distancing.
“Customers are made aware of this through signs all over the store — on the doors, entrances, sales counters, checkout terminals, anywhere where an employee is going to have social contact with a customer,” he said.
In addition, all employees who are able to do their jobs remotely are doing so, he added.
The purchasing, human resources, and marketing departments are all working from home on their laptops.
“We are also limiting job site visits, keeping any outside sales people outside the store,” he added. “We have a large sales force. These people’s jobs are to go out to find new business. They also have a desk inside the store but they aren’t using this now.”
Those employees who have to stay in the store, such as yard personnel, truck drivers, and cashiers, currently are keeping the same hours they have always worked.
Ring’s End is also offering free delivery and curbside pickup services. More info: https://www.ringsend.com/darien-ct-store
Some businesses, however, have decided to close during this time. These include J.McLaughlin, based on its corporate policy, and Darien Sport Shop on Boston Post Road, whose current plan is to reopen Monday, March 30. Coco+Lala is also closed, as is The Dock Shop.
Michael La Scala, one of the owners of The Dock Shop, said the store is “playing it by ear.” According to its Facebook page, The Dock Shop hopes to reopen at regular hours as soon as it can — tentatively scheduled for next Monday, March 23. He said the store has a large social media presence and a fairly substantial email list he is using to stay in touch with customers.
“We will see what happens next. I don’t see any point in putting our staff at risk and anyone else they come in contact with. If you drive around town, no one is out and about — which is the way it should be,” he said.
More info: https://www.facebook.com/DOCKSHOPDARIEN/
Some of The Dock Shop’s neighbors on Tokeneke Road are staying open — for now.
Longtime music destination Johnny’s Records told The Darien Times the store is staying open unless mandated to close by the town or the state and is keeping things clean and disinfected. Should it be necessary, the store will stagger shoppers in the cozy but small space.
More info: https://www.facebook.com/johnnysrecordshop/
Bill Frate, owner of another longtime Darien business on Tokeneke Road, the Darien News Store, said he is evaluating on a day-to-day basis whether to open or not. He said foot traffic is definitely low.
“I’m trying to accommodate regular customers — but they aren’t all showing up,” he said.
Frate said other than weather and power outages, he hasn’t seen anything like this in town in the decades the store has been open.
He said local businesses are cutting hours — and it’s hard to imagine how people who work hourly will recover.
“When the cause is the weather or the power outages, there’s an end in sight. There isn’t one here,” he said.
“The possible impact is unknown. It’s going to be interesting,” Frate said.
More info or hours open: 203-655-4853.