Retailers Eye Phased Reopening Plan

Retailers Eye Phased Reopening Plan

The Minnesota Retailers Association issues a step-by-step plan to reopen retail businesses. The owner of Patina explains the urgency.

Looking toward reviving Minnesota’s economy, the Minnesota Retailers Association late last week released a multi-step plan to reopen retail businesses while minimizing the spread of Covid-19.

The plan would be rolled out in three stages. The first step is to request more financial assistance from Gov. Tim Walz and state legislators. The association is hoping for a 60-day delay on property taxes and better access to the state’s emergency loan program. Key to the plan is allowing retailers to conduct curbside shopping and delivery, said Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association.

“There’s not really authorization to conduct any business so that’s why we feel a little bit of a sense of urgency surrounding that curbside option and delivery options,” he said.

In addition, retailers are asking for an expansion and increase of the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which now appears likely.

Like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s best practices guidelines, the retailers’ plan is aimed at supporting both public health and economic health, Nustad said.

“There’s this balance between public health and economic health, and we fully believe that the state of Minnesota, the governor, and legislators can balance those two items,” he said.

The second step of the plan calls for getting state permission to provide curbside shopping and delivery for some cash flow.

“I think we’ve got a good enough collection of best practices where we know those retailers could do contactless curbside and delivery in a way that would be safe for them and their customers,” Nustad said. “We did not put a date on it, because I think this is all public health driven … But we’d certainly love to see that in the coming weeks.”

Some local shops are already offering curbside pick-up. Patina tested it at two of its eight locations before Easter and is now offering the service at all eight of its Twin Cites stores. “How we position our business aligns with essentials,” said co-owner Christine Ward, ticking off product categories that are currently exempt from Minnesota’s stay-at-home orders, including perishable plants, cleaning supplies, and home office goods

Ward has been workly closely with the Minnesota Retailers Association and at Nustad’s urging, she wrote a letter to the governor speaking to the importance of letting independent stores reopen If they can present a plan to do so safely. “I’d be okay with having to demonstrate how we are creating a safe environment,” Ward said. “Even as I’ve been out shopping myself as a consumer, the experience has ranged.”

For Patina, a company with more than 100 employees and significant overhead for eight locations, curbside shopping is unlikely to make up for more than a month of lost business, but it’s a start, Ward said. Having made the decision several years ago to pull the plug on e-commerce and focus on experiential shopping, Patina is now rushing to get an e-commerce site online. “We have merchandise arriving at the stores now that we ordered six months ago. Christmas (merchandise) is already starting to come in—we can’t cancel those orders.” For many gift and lifestyle retailers like Patina, May is a key month, Ward said. Sales for Mother’s Day, graduation and Father’s Day gift shopping typically provide enough of a spike “to cashflow into Christmas,” Ward said. “If we lose most of May, it won’t allow many of us to position ourselves for the fourth quarter.”

The retailers association also called for widespread Covid-19 testing and tracing. The final step of the plan would be getting permission to reopen stores using social distancing best practices.

The association’s best practices recommend taking precautions like using signage and marking out space for social distancing, having workers ask for permission to touch customers’ products during check out, and disinfecting regularly.

“Quite frankly, if the consumer does not feel comfortable walking into a retail store, they’ll probably never come back to that store,” Nustad said. “When retailers do reopen, they’re going to be doing their absolute best to maintain the safety and the protection of their workers and the customer.”

Following and executing the best practices will be key for getting consumers to feel confident in a retail experience.

“The customer mindset is potentially changed for the very long term, I might even use the term forever,” he said. “I think there are long-term—perhaps lifetime—changes that we’ll see based on this pandemic.”

For example, receipt machines may be directed so that only the customer touches it, and not the clerk.

“I think there’ll be some operational changes that could have long-term impacts on what transactions look like and how they occur,” Nustad said.

Allison Kaplan contributed to this report.