By CRISTINA JANNEY
The rebound for local retailers after the COVID-19 shutdown has been mixed, said the Hays Chamber director.
"We have heard mixed reviews of comments from our Chamber members," said Sarah Wasinger, chamber director. "Some of them are experiencing escalated sales right now because people are excited to patronize their businesses again. But we have also heard the other side of the story — that things are a little bit slower because finances of families in general can be tighter right now based on the unemployment levels.
"Some are saying business is as usual at this point and numbers are running flat with what they experienced in 2019."
Wasinger said businesses that opened later are seeing a greater surge in buying.
"We are actually hearing more from them that their doors opening again was so great that they have actually experienced sales numbers that model what we have in the fourth quarter for Christmas time," she said.
Businesses that carried food or pharmaceutical products were thriving throughout the shutdown as they were deemed essential and allowed to maintain sales through the stay-at-home order, Wasinger said.
Wasinger said the local clothing retailers were reporting better than normal sales. However, some jewelry and accessory sales were down.
Businesses at Big Creek Crossing shopping center in Hays have reopened at varying paces. Gordman's is in a close-out sale.
Glik's manager Molly Skeen said, "We haven't seen a lot of hesitancy in people to come back out. We have seen our traffic resume as normal."
Glik's started with reduced hours but is now back to regular mall hours.
Dustin Roths, owner of Diamond R. Jewelry, reported his store has been busy since reopening.
"We've been incredibly blessed," he said. "I just can't believe how well our May went. It was very stressful while we were at home. We sold a few things online, but when we got back, what normally would have been our spring bridal season got pushed a little bit later into the summer.
"Where the summer is usually kind of slow for us," he said, "it's been incredibly busy for us."
He said he hoped consumer spending has been pent up, and the store will be able to do enough business to make up for what they lost during the shutdown.
The business was able to use the federal Payroll Protection Program to keep all of its workers employed during the shutdown.
Roths said he took time during the shutdown to increase the store's presence on its eBay store.
"We tried to do our best to let people know we were still trying to take care of them," he said.
One of Diamond R's most significant challenges has been been trying to get special orders from manufacturers in larger cities that have had to remain in lockdown longer.
Roths said employees have been doing more sanitizing since the store reopened. The store is allowing customers to handle the merchandise, but employees are cleaning and sanitizing the jewelry after it has been handled.
The store is also offering a jewelry sanitizing service using steam and ultrasonic cleaners.
"It is something that you have on all of the time, but you don't really think about it getting dirty and maybe carrying things around with it," Roths said.
Wasinger said local businesses are taking sanitation to the next level and providing other services to make customers feel more comfortable as they resume shopping.
Businesses, including Refine and Simply Charmed are offering services such as preorder and personal shopping to make sure customers feel comfortable with their shopping experience.
As businesses move forward, Wasinger said owners are concerned about future shutdowns.
"At this time we are aware of many Chamber businesses who are going out of their way to anticipate if they have a second round of closures," she said, "trying to figure out how they can do more online store options and we know there are a lot of folks that have not done that before."
The Chamber is working with retailers to keep their information in the business directory updated, as many businesses have changed their hours in light of COVID.
With the FHSU not holding in-person classes, business, especially restaurants, have been struggling to find enough employees to fill their shifts, Wasigner said.
The Chamber has reached out to parents of students at Hays High School and Thomas More Prep-Marian to let them know these businesses have work available for students. It has also urged businesses to post jobs on Grow Hays' WorkHays.com.
"I still think it is essential even though the state is open and travel is available at this time, it is still very critical to think local first and know that there are a plethora of options here in the Hays community and surrounding areas," Wasinger said.
"The more people can continue to patronize our local businesses, the greater likelihood we will see local businesses thriving again in the future."
Roths said he was cautiously optimistic about the economy. However, he is still moving forward with the building-out of the former Strand Theater as an events venue.
"It's kind of full speed ahead for us," he said. "We are ready to see the economy rebound. We think the green go button has been pushed. We have no intention of cowering in fear to this thing. We really just want to get back to our livelihood and taking care of people and hope they have the finances to buy the things that we sell."