The door is open: Darien businesses talk changes, new initiatives
After what some Darien business owners have said was a long and lonely two months, customers can now finally come inside their store.
“Business has been steady, said Ben Roseman of David Harvey Jewelers, at 995 Post Road. “There are plenty of people coming out. It’s not back to normal but there is definitely traffic.”
On Wednesday, May 20, as per Gov. Ned Lamont’s directions, many retail stores and outdoor-dining only in restaurants have opened throughout town and the rest of the state.
In preparation, businesses took great effort in making their stores appealing and friendly to customers while still adhering to the new social distancing guidelines.
One post-pandemic change at David Harvey Jewelers is that, in general, no more than two people are allowed inside the store at one time.
“If we find it’s safe enough to allow another person, then we will, said Roseman, adding that this would apply if someone is in the back of the store and there are customers in the repair section up front.
Additionally, the store now has tape to direct customers which way to head in and head out of the store. Also, customers now bag their own items after paying.
When customers bring items into the store that need to be repaired, “we wait three days prior to beginning the repairs so the virus would die,” Roseman said.
Found items while in quarantine
Roseman said he has been seeing a lot of repairs come in. Some of them are the result of items that customers have broken while they were in quarantine.
Others have had time to clean out their house and have found items they haven’t seen in a while, according to Roseman.
“While cleaning, they saw something that they want to wear again, and want it sized,” he said. “A lot of people found family heirloom rings that were too snug on their finger and are coming in to have them sized.”
While none of the local schools are holding traditional graduations, there have been many graduation orders coming in to the store such as engraved charms and frames.
Customers have also purchased anniversary gifts for parents or relatives, according to Roseman.
“They say they didn’t have a chance to shop while they were in quarantine and didn’t want to buy online,” he added.
Margot Krotee, team manager at Browne & Co at 865 Post Road, said while the store has had some business since its reopening, it’s “nothing close to the numbers we used to do, especially with the cafe. It will take a few weeks to see what the new normal is.”
Recognizing local heroes
As a way to recognize those in town who have been doing good for the community during the pandemic, Browne & Co. has begun a new initiative inside its store called “Follow the Stars.”
“We’re building a wall of stars to honor local heroes. We painted white stars down the alleyway that people take to come in and out of our store,” Krotee said. “The stars are socially distanced from one another.”
Each star contains the name of a local “star” in town.
To date, the store already has a dozen names on its wall of fame. These include police officer Mark Cirillo, EMS Post 53 Executive Director Joe Larcheveque, David and Holly Hawes, who coordinated the flags on the flagpoles, and Darien Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Cator.
The store is collecting additional names from members of the community. Those who have suggestions are asked to call the store.
Additionally, owner Diane Browne said during the time the store has been closed, she has created a new business idea as a result of the pandemic — customized Easter baskets.
“We found a different way to do a little bit of business,” Browne said. “I started an Easter baskets Instagram campaign.”
Through Instagram under the hashtag “Easter Baskets,” the store advertised customized Easter egg baskets.
“We set up an Easter basket building section. We took the baskets we sell in our regular home section and filled them with items such as Easter candy and recipes, stuffed animals, and books,” she said.
Additional items in the baskets were canvas bags, decorative bowls, a scarf, and candle.
Browne & Co. has shipped the baskets everywhere, all across the U.S.
“We had better sales in Easter than we ever had before,” she said.
When it came time for Mother’s Day, the store also created customized Mather’s Day baskets.
“That was a way of adapting to the environment we in,” Browne added.
Next year, the store is already planning to create an Easter basket section where customers can build their own baskets inside the store, and staff will gift wrap them.
Pam Perry at Aquarius women’s clothing store, at 871 Post Road, said that although shoppers were tentative at first, “those that came in were very excited. They said they couldn’t wait to get out of the house.”
New product line
As a result of the pandemic, a new product line that’s currently on order at Aquarius for the spring is washable masks. These are available in a variety of prints such as animal, florals, and flags.
In regard to taking safety precautions, Perry is now offering private shopping by appointment only.
“I live five minutes from the store. I will accommodate anyone,” Perry said.
“Everyone has got a different comfort level about all of this,” Perry said. “The main thing that everyone is healthy and safe.”
Rosey Costello, owner of Everything Is Rosey, at 1072 Post Road, said the first day the store opened, it was busy.
“We had to tell some people they had to wait outside,” Costello said.
She said she’s grateful to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson who provided a box of masks to all stores that needed them, “so when a person comes to door that does not have a mask to shop, we can give them one.”
Precautions against contracting the virus she has taken include a taped line six feet from the register, and not physically touching customers’ credit cards.
“We have them read us numbers of their credit card and put it in that way,” Costello said. “It costs us more when the physical card isn’t pushed into the machine. We called the credit card company to see if they can make some allowances. We are waiting to hear back from them. I’d rather pay the extra and have everyone be safe.”
For those who pay cash, employees are using rubber gloves.
Customers are also not allowed inside dressing rooms.
“We are telling people to take the clothes home and try them on,” she said. “We are a small town, we trust you.”
When customers return items, “we have an attic stairwell we keep them in for three days, and we steam it before bringing it back on the floor.”
Virtual fashion show
Costello is also offering a virtual fashion show opportunity for customers.
“My customers and now friends Diane Schlinkert and Susan Hamill organized the idea of a virtual fashion show. They didn’t want to see us go under,” she said.
Costello and her store manager pull three or four outfits in the customers’ size that they think the customer would like.
“We call them and say ‘We are dropping a bag outside your front door,’” she said.
Customers have someone in their family take pictures of them modeling in their outfits.
“Diane’s brother put the pictures that everyone took at home to music we picked out. We donated a percentage of the sales to Corbin Cares,” Costello said. “A win-win for everyone.”
Overall, Costello said that after many months, “Everybody been very happy and complimentary and excited to be back and out.”