Inside-out: Shops innovate to do business at a social distance

Wyatt Werner and Alycia Welch of Street Factory Media install a curbside window at Muddy Waters, where the last day of business is May 3. Photo courtesy of Street Factory Media

If your neighborhood shop appears to be closed, check again. 

One Yoga Studio members are lighting candles and brewing tea at night before the virtual class “Yoga for a Good Night’s Sleep.” The Warming House is streaming living room concerts for more viewers than could normally fit inside the 40-seat venue. Lyndale Animal Hospital has curbside service, where staff allow pets inside for appointments while their humans wait outside.

Photo by Isaiah Rustad

While some businesses are dormant and waiting out the pandemic, many others are innovating. Salons like Twisted Hare are shipping hair products with a commission for stylists, and Sweeney Todd’s is demonstrating how to trim bangs online. Restaurants like Lu’s Sandwiches and Kiku Bistro are distributing “Isolation BIZ-ingo” cards with Saturday night takeout orders. Utepils Brewing and Icehouse partnered to sell virtual concert tickets along with growlers. Patisserie 46 is offering French Toast kits that come with a loaf of brioche, custard batter, a dozen eggs, Minnesota syrup and a choice of ground coffee or a bottle of rose wine. Common Roots is taking orders for whole fruits and veggies, and Wise Acre has added a farmers market with meat, eggs and produce. The Café Meow is still fostering cats for adoption, sharing a live feed of the cats on instead of hosting café meet-and-greets.

View the Southwest Minneapolis Curbside Business Directory, a growing work in progress. Please contact businesses directly for the most up-to-date information.

Other shops are quickly building online stores. By happy circumstance, Once Upon A Crime created an online bookstore and changed the website two weeks before the pandemic hit.

“That has saved us,” said Meg King-Abraham. “Without that, we would probably be done.”

Kathy Lawrow, owner of the women’s clothing boutique Larue’s, said she’s learning to post merchandise and stock inventory for her new online store. 

“That’s been pretty cool. I think it’s made me recreate my business in a new way. But I don’t like it as a substitute for the real thing,” she said. “Something else I swore I would never do is post on Instagram and Facebook — I prefer an interconnected experience. I also learned how to do that.”

Other shops are reinventing the entire storefront. Until the last day of business May 3, food moved through a new curbside window at Muddy Waters. Glam Doll Donuts now displays donuts in the front window and serves them through a new “Pandemic Door.”  

Photo by Isaiah Rustad

And some shops have created completely contact-less transactions. The Lynhall is alphabetically arranging family suppers on tables for no-touch pickup. Amigo Service Center and other auto shops can pick up and drop off vehicles at home. 

“It’s those little things, just looking around and saying, ‘What can I do, what can I sell, what can I make to support my business staying afloat?’” said Theresa Swaney, the Lake Street Council’s senior creative operations manager. “I’ve seen cocktail kits popping up everywhere.”

Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar sold taco boxes, margarita kits and Isolation BIZ-ingo cards for virtual Bingo. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

Safest ways to do business

“Curbside pickup, where it’s possible, is a great idea,” said Pete Raynor, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, where he directs the Industrial Hygiene program. He explained that the risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 combines the quantity and duration of exposure. 

“Having something like curbside pickup can be really beneficial from both of those standpoints, because the amount of time you’re interacting is relatively short, as well as it being outside and not having to go into a store or any other facility,” he said. “Paying ahead is great.”

Airborne droplets and smaller aerosols appear to be the primary source of virus transmission, Raynor said. Inside, the quantity of droplets will always be higher than outside, where the wind disperses and dilutes the virus. 

Contact transmission through surfaces appears to be secondary to airborne transmission, and Raynor said you can protect against it by washing hands. He recommended washing hands after getting home and after unpacking; disposing of packaging and disinfecting counters or other services; and washing hands before eating.

Angie Cyr, acting program manager at the Minnesota Department of Health’s Food, Pools & Lodging Services, recommends paying ahead for contact-less delivery service.

“They let you know the delivery is there, and that’s it,” she said. “That’s the best way to go.” 

While it’s recommended that everyone wear masks, that doesn’t mean you can get as close to someone as you want, Cyr said. 

Asymptomatic people still spread the virus while they’re talking, regardless of a mask, Raynor said. 

“When you’re in a store, think about minimizing your conversation,” he said. “The more you talk, the more you’re generating aerosols.”

While curbside service is probably safer, Cyr cautions that there is always a risk involved. 

“The more that you’re interacting with somebody not in your household, the more chance there is that you’re going to pick something up,” Cyr said. 

New business sense

The Brookings Institution estimates in a recent report that about 2 million, or 26%, of national small businesses, defined as fewer than 250 employees, are at immediate risk of closing.  

Local small businesses are seeing a serious reduction in revenue, and restaurants are particularly hard-hit, said Matt Perry, president of the Southwest Business Association.

Greg Alford is focused on carryout at C&G’s Smoking Barbecue, and he’s closely watching meat plant closings. 

“It’s been four or five days since I’ve been able to get beef. The minute it hits the floor, people start buying it up,” he said, explaining that the shipments are smaller. “I thank God that I’ve got great customers. They’re doing what they can do to support me and try to keep me open.”

At the East Harriet-based Knowmad Adventures, staff worked overnight to fly travelers home, as Argentina closed the border with 48 hours notice, followed by Chile with 36 hours notice. One couple’s boat was barred from docking in Chile for a week. As revenue dropped to zero, they furloughed staff, cut pay, shuttered the office along with its water and garbage service and downgraded business software. Owner Jordan Harvey is negotiating with vendors so he can book 2021 trips with 10% down that are fully refundable 95 days before departure. It’s still a risk to the company, he said. Anytime a trip is canceled, it hurts the local guides and outfitters and squanders hours of staff time.

“I’m trying to make it so people can book something to look forward to through this all,” he said.

Farmers markets are still on for the season. The Kingfield Farmers Market recently tested out a curbside pickup model, where patrons pre-ordered directly from vendors and signed up for 15-minute pickup windows. The farmers didn’t know if anyone would show up, but they served 250 customers who anecdotally spent $50 apiece, when the usual spend is about $10. When the regular season launches in May and June, the Fulton, Nokomis and Kingfield markets will offer a no-contact curbside pickup option and a physically-distant shopping experience, with no onsite food consumption.

“We’re making it happen,” said Emily Lund, executive director.

Deb Corhouse at the Kingfield Farmers Market. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

One Yoga’s online classes are booming and growing, but overall there has been a decline in business since the studio closed, due to the limitations of online programming,  said Claire Leslie Johnson, program director. Special online workshops will include yoga for anxiety and stress relief. Health equity through yoga is part of the nonprofit studio’s mission, and there are free introductory classes for people of color and sliding fees down to $2.50 per class or $10 per month for people with limited income or job loss. 

“Taking time for self-care, including lots of time outside, has been super therapeutic for me,” Leslie Johnson said in an email. “I am recommitting to building yoga and mindfulness practices into my daily routine, even if it’s just 10 minutes sitting and meditating in the morning.”

Many studios are sharing donation-based offerings through social media. TwinTown Fitness posts at-home workouts on its blog, with DJ mixes available as well. 

“Social media has become more important now,” Swaney said.

Quang Restaurant is sharing photos of customers’ mash-ups and leftover creations. 

“In normal times, small businesses have limited marketing budgets and rely heavily on word of mouth. It is now even more important for you to voice (photograph) your support,” Quang wrote on Instagram.

The Uptown Association is offering a new “passport” promotion, where patrons who order takeout from five restaurants and share photos can win $100 in gift cards.

Revival has a mobile app for takeout and delivery. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

At businesses across the city, change is coming fast. 

When Lyndale Animal Hospital staff suggested a curbside model, staff locked the doors to human clients the next day. Staff adapted quickly, clients were largely understanding, and the system is now a “well-oiled machine,” said Kelsey Endres, practice manager. 

“It was hectic, but I feel like everybody got it,” she said. “This is what we’re doing now.”

Visit the Southwest Journal’s Curbside Business Directory to see a map and info on curbside pickup, delivery and support for local businesses.