By LISA MONTI
Small business owners in coastal Mississippi are getting creative with how they’re responding to the ever-changing conditions they suddenly find themselves operating in. Keeping their employees and their customers safe is top of their minds, along with keeping their businesses running.
Midtown Pharmacy & Gifts in Bay St. Louis is using the parking lot to accommodate customers who need prescriptions and medical supplies without getting out of their cars. Owner Tommy Turfitt said in the past few weeks he has been “looking for ways we could ramp up and stay in business.” That includes temporary drive-through service.
On Thursday, Turfitt was greeting customers in the parking lot, taking their paperwork inside the pharmacy and directing them to wait in designated parking spaces for their orders to be brought out to them.
Midtown Pharmacy has offered free delivery service since opening about three years ago as a way to accommodate customers, especially the elderly, who were homebound or had no transportation. In the last couple of weeks, deliveries have increased by 50 percent, Turfitt said. “Typically we do five or six a day, not it’s 10 or 12.”
The pharmacy itself is closed to customers, and the gift shop it shares space with is closed as well. Midtown sells home decor, a full line of gifts and has bridal and baby shower registries. “It’s the part of our business that we rely for cash flow,” he said. “But if somebody wants a gift, they can call us.”
Turfitt said Midtown employees are “keeping our distance and supporting the government’s call for social distancing,” he said. “A lot of patients are thanking us for the providing the services. It’s going over well.”
The owners of Pop Brothers, which makes and sells artisan ice popsicles at several locations and at special events, are following the 10-people rule in stores with inside seating. At their outside seating locations it’s business as usual for now. “If they go to no-indoor seating we will have curbside pickup and delivery,” said Shannon Arzola who owns Pop Brothers with her husband, Octavio Arzola, and her brother, Chuck Kelly. “It’s important to follow rules for safety.”
In the meantime, business at the stores has held steady. “The bottom line right now is we’re fine. The kids are out of school and people are looking for something to enjoy sitting outside or to take home. We’ve had a steady stream of people. We’re okay.”
Pop Brothers is missing out on sales at several special spring events that have cancelled along with end-of-year school events. “We’re just going to get creative,” Arzola said. Possibilities include ordering and paying online and deliveries made to customers at home without any contact. “The pops are sealed and individually wrapped so we can hang it on their door,” she said.
Claiborne Hill has two supermarkets in Waveland and Picayune. The family-owned business announced new hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily starting March 20 so employees will have time “to properly clean and sanitize” the stores and to restock.
The managers also announced the temporary closing of salad and olive bars and complimentary coffee stations, more frequent cleaning of restrooms and at the registers, limiting availability of some items and the number of customers allowed in the stores during the morning hours to avoid a rush at opening. There is also temporary stop of all sale ads because of shortages at the warehouses.
Kerri Pellegrin owns The Wedding Collection, an all-inclusive wedding services businesses, in Bay St. Louis that had weddings booked months ahead.
“Fortunately our business doesn’t stop,” she said. “Brides continue to plan until an apocalypse happens.”
The pandemic has caused a domino effect of moving multiple weddings to a later date this summer. “We had one wedding every weekend through April 4, and after a one-week break, all the way through May 2 that we had to postpone,” she said. Within two days, all the arrangements for new dates were made. “Our brides have just been super. They’ve all taken it well.”
Pellegrin is working in the shop alone to keep her employees healthy and the showroom is being cleaned in between each appointment. “It’s really about protecting our clients and making sure our vendor partners are taken care of,” she said. “We’re like everybody else, taking it day by day.”
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