Editor’s note: This story is the third installment of a series following five downtown Longview businesses through the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Parking spots along Commerce Avenue that sat vacant during April and May are empty no longer.
Several downtown Longview retailers and restaurants reopened their shop last month when Cowlitz County entered Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase “Safe Start” plan. Business owners say customers came flooding back in, eager to support their favorite stores.
But the shopping experience now looks different than it did in the days before COVID-19. Workers’ welcoming smiles hide behind masks, and social distancing decals line the floor.
And new business plans concocted during downtime created by mandated closures are coming to life as shops adapt, relocate and adjust to new rules for operating.
Teagues downsizes showroom to focus on workshops, accessories
Foot traffic on Commerce Avenue saw a boost with the move to Phase 2, but most days drop-in shoppers ebbed and flowed with the news cycle, said Wendy Kosloski, owner of Teagues Interiors.
“As far as foot traffic, due to some of the other threats, it’s up and down still,” she said. “There are more people dropping in, but not a lot yet. There is still concern (about the virus) due to the local news.”
That sort of unpredictability presents a challenge for Kosloski as she tries to move inventory out of her showroom. Despite discounts on furniture, she’s had to extend the time frame of her plans to downsize the shop.
“We’ve been pondering this for a while due to the age of Teagues, being 30-plus-years old, and the nature and threats of retail,” Kosloski said. “There are other furniture resources in town, so it’s a good time for us to concentrate on our forté with accessories, lamps and the chalk paint, which is unique to us here.”
Kosloski will rent the main showroom to a pair of business owners from Tibbetts Mercantile, who plan to move in August 1. (See more on that below). She eventually will close off the showroom from her workshop.
Though smaller, “Teagues will still be uptown and down home with our home services and chalk paint,” Kosloski said.
She plans to restore an original entryway on the north side of the building so customers will have direct access to the workshop once Tibbetts moves in. Attendees at her most recent chalk paint workshop got a sneak peek of the new structure.
“It was great fun,” Kosloski said. “We limit our workshop to six people at this time. We are able to social distance. … We wear gloves and masks … and we sanitize the brushes to keep everything safe.”
Tibbetts Mercantile preps for move with ‘a couple of months off’
Although its storefront currently sits vacant, Tibbetts Mercantile didn’t fold due to the pandemic.
The recent quiet is instead an indicator of the co-operative boutique’s temporary closure as Marnie Harris and Joanna Asplund prepare to relocate the business a few blocks down once the lease on their original spot expires later this month. They will reopen this autumn in the former furniture showroom for Teagues Interiors.
“We had decided this was just too much space for us, and we made a calculated decision to say we wouldn’t reopen right away because of today’s social and economic environment,” said Asplund, who owns the JoJo and CoCo clothing boutique. “Marnie and I agreed it would be nice to have a couple of months off.”
“We love that we are able to take a space on Downtown Commerce and kind of revitalize it. … We think this is the Hollywood and Vine of Cowlitz County, right there on the corner in a great spot,” added Harris, who owns Wander, a shoe store.
Phase 2 gave the women a chance to bid farewell to their first storefront with an in-person moving sale. The shop saw a flurry of activity as shoppers dropped in for special deals.
“The first week of it, the response was crazy. We were super busy. It was great,” Harris said.
“We got to say hi to people. We got rid of our inventory. And we were able to explain our moving plans in person,” Asplund said.
The women expect to reopen as an even stronger business once they’ve relocated. Both are adding a line of men’s products to their offerings.
“It gives us a new project, and it gives us something to look forward to,” Harris said.
Storyboard Delights redefining chocolate experience
The owners of Storyboard Delights said the forced closure gave them more time to brainstorm creative ideas for products.
More importantly, it opened their eyes to the unhealthy relationship they had with their business.
“Before the pandemic, we were here constantly until midnight every night,” said Eric Wright. “That was not great. We were getting burnt out. Now that we are taking time off, we are able to take the aspects of the business that really work and put it back in a more reasonable way so we can still function as people and parents.”
The shop is open for limited hours currently, so Wright and his wife, Julisa, are using the extra time to think “intentionally” about how they can become the “special desert shop” downtown, one where customers can get a unique experience.
The shop now sells dark chocolate sampler, so customers can taste different varieties of chocolate beans. Wright also increased the stock of cloth-bound and leather-bound books.
“Talking to all the other small businesses here ... a lot of us have been having the same feeling: I’m not going back to the way it was where I was just running around constantly as a slave to my business. I want to run the business the way I want to,” Wright said.
Sales at Red Hat soar with reopening
Jordana Schumway’s prediction that Phase 2 would be like “after a snow day on steroids” proved to be true for the Red Hat thrift shop.
As of Thursday, the shop was on track to have the busiest month on record, she said.
“October and November 2018 are currently our best months. We will beat those months without really any problem,” Schumway said. “What I’ve heard from our customers is they are really glad to be able to come in. ... They missed that personal connection, and we missed it too.”
The soaring sales will help Red Hat recoup some of the money lost during the closure, Schumway said. Those profits would have gone to the Emergency Support Shelter and the Children’s Place as donations.
Between March and May, profits dropped by almost $40,000, she said.
“It’s getting built back up again.”
Forest, Stone and Sea ‘feeling really good’ despite uncertainty in regulations
Under the Phase 2 safety rules, Jen Albright-Burns’ small stone and jewelry shop in the Merk can have no more than three customers inside at a time.
Personally, Albright-Burns perfers just two, she said.
“I’m doing everything I can in here to follow the guidelines,” she said.
Most customers understand the need for precaution, and Albright-Burns said she’s only had one incident so far where a customer argued about the rules.
She knows how “emotionally confusing” the new guidelines are, she said. They change often, and “you have to be responsible for seeking the information for yourself.”
But as a “responsible community member” and business owner, Albright-Burns backs the recommendations from health officials. In the face of a rising COVID-19 case count, she wants to do whatever she must to keep her shoppers safe and her store open.
“It feels really nice to have the doors back open again.”
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