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Sudbury retail shops open to gradual return to business
SUDBURY -- It might have been the first-day businesses were allowed to be open for curbside retail, but downtown Sudbury looked a lot like a ghost town Monday.
May 11 marked the start of what many retail owners had been hoping for, but in downtown Sudbury, the local business improvement association says many of its members are looking at it with cautious optimism.
"I think that our members and the small businesses in the community are really looking forward to opening their doors and getting back in business," said association's executive director, Maureen Luoma. "I think the phased approach that is happening is a very welcome first step."
Luoma says a number of their members have gone to great lengths in the pandemic, becoming more adaptive with the changes during this state of emergency.
"It's very scary. Their business has been on hold for such a long time and not knowing when that is going to change. There's been a lot of great information out there in terms of assistance and relief, but even that is so overwhelming," she explained.
Mindie Mullen is the owner of R Little Secret Fashion and His Secret, Fashions for Men on Cedar Street. She started her curbside pick-ups on Monday.
"It hasn't exactly been super clear to us. Every day, you're having to look at the updates and follow the stuff with all the talks they're doing every day and sometimes they'll announce something, but then they change it. So, it's been a little challenging in that way to keep up on what we can and what we're not able to do," said Mullen.
The clothier adds that the boutique will have to modify how customers shop at the store.
"It's going to be a little bit tricky for us because our customers are used to coming in, feeling, touching, trying on and stuff like that, with the sizing these days being all over the map. So, it is going to be a little bit trying. We're going to try our best to accommodate as much as we can, take it home, try it on, exchanges, that type of thing," said Mullen.
John Querney of Querney's Office Plus has been doing curbside deliveries. A lot of his retail is done business-to-business; even still, he's noticed things slowing down.
"Our office supplies have been very busy. We've been able to maintain deliveries; we have two trucks on the road doing that. Our furniture is a little slower for sure. People don't want their furniture delivered at this time," said Querney. "It's been tough for a lot of businesses if you're paying rent, the landlord still has his mortgage to pay, so they still need to collect some rent money. For sure it's going to be tough on businesses, they don't have any income coming in. It's tough for them to pay the rent."
Business expert and Cambrian College professor Brian Vendramin expects this will be the new norm for some time.
"I think it's risky. We still don't have a vaccine out there, but I know people have cabin fever. They want to get out, and we didn't have great weather over the weekend on Mother's Day, but I know a lot of stores were wishing they could have been open then as well," said Vendramin.
"The retailers are really facing three challenges. The first 'bucket,' as I call it, is the finance. Where they are financially and have they been taking part in any of the government programs that are available? The second one is staffing. What are they going to do, have they been able to bring their staff back? And it's not a matter of giving them some new training, but giving them some good training with respect to how they deal with customers, whether it's curbside pickup or they come into the store. And the third thing is the marketing. I'm really concerned with things like supply chain with businesses that are going out of business that will affect the supply chain. Also, a lot of stores had winter inventory. What do they do with that now that they have spring inventory coming in?" said Vendramin.
While it's still too early to determine how many businesses will be forced to close due to this latest hit to their bottom line, Downtown Sudbury says they are working to promote those members that are open and to help them understand the rules.
"I think people are really beginning to understand the importance of our independently-owned, local businesses and the importance of supporting them. So, hopefully, that will continue," said Luoma.
They've posted a list of those businesses that are still open to the Downtown Sudbury website.