Locally owned Twin Cities stores get boost from neighborhood shoppers
For many, the first pandemic shutdown in 2020 was a time to slow down, but not for Paul Horan of Gear Running Store in Edina.
After the store closed in the first statewide order, Horan shot his cell number to a list of 7,000 people in its e-mail database. Customers soon started calling with orders. Horan got in his car to make deliveries, sometimes driving as far as Victoria, 25 miles from the store.
"Everyone else was bored with nothing to do, but I was busy all day long," Horan said.
To survive the pandemic, small retailers in Minnesota and around the nation made major changes. For many, the first, and most obvious, move was to go local — embracing and serving the customers closest to them.
In the early days of the pandemic, Horan found that customers would anxiously poke their heads out of front doors and ask him to leave their new running shoes outside. "They could still get personal service, although quite a bit more remote," he said.
Some local outreach efforts were temporary, such as Horan's drop-offs. But in many cases they became permanent strategies and reinforced the proclivity that many consumers had to support their neighbors in business. Today, Horan said his business is on track to beat 2019 numbers.
What's always boosted small apparel retailers is the personal service they offer to ensure the right fit, accessorize an outfit or even special-order an item.
"When you buy a dress, it's not like buying a T-shirt or sweater where you just know your size and order it, because dresses — the way they fit — are more complicated," said Nancy Shank of Dugo, which stands for "dress up go out."
Her shop, which specializes in mother-of-the-bride dresses and upscale sportswear, downsized from the Galleria to a smaller location at 50th and France in Edina. Regular customers returned and she's attracting new customers who turn to boutiques for something different.
"We don't have a terribly Midwestern vibe, but we do do fashion for Minneapolis," Shank said. "It's not over the top, but if you want a little swish, or classic with a twist, we have that, and you don't have to look like everyone else who's shopping at chain stores."
Some small business owners made difficult choices to leave neighbors they'd served for years.
Primp, a group of women's boutique stores, closed last year in the Nokomis neighborhood of Minneapolis, a decision influenced by the unrest in the city, and in Rochester, where construction had hurt business. Owner Wesley Uthus beefed up Primp's online shopping .
Her five remaining stores selling denim, dresses and other apparel aimed at 25-34-year-old women, are now on track to surpass 2019 sales. Uthus said she sees increasing traffic at her suburban locations as customers shop closer to home.
"Now that people are having vacations and weddings, we're selling so many more dresses than we typically would be this time of year," she said.
The MartinPatrick3 boutique, a fixture in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis, is experiencing the same lift.
"There's plenty of traffic back here again," CEO Dana Swindler said. "Restaurants are open. The Hewing [hotel] is fully open again with breakfast and lunch and dinner. All of that makes a difference."