With COVID-19 preventing in-person shopping and in-restaurant dining, thereby limiting classic forms of customer service, local business owners have had to get creative in how they operate.
“We all have to adapt to the situation,” said Moses Valdez, co-owner of Selleria Veneta, a purveyor of leather accessories.
One of Oak Park’s newer retail ventures, Selleria Veneta, 141 N. Oak Park Ave., just opened in November. After closing down the showroom in March, Valdez and his business partner Cecilia Romanucci ramped up the boutique’s social media output, using it as a means to promote and sell products.
“We’re losing that human touch in our store, so now we have to do it virtually,” said Valdez.
Selleria Veneta offers free domestic shipping for online purchases. Customers can also shop via Facetime calls and Facebook Live shopping events.
On March 21 and 22, Selleria Veneta invited other local shops to participate in a joint Facebook Live shopping event.
“The event was to create a bond with the other Oak Park retailers during this situation,” Valdez said.
Some of the participating shops included Careful Peach Boutique, 1024 North Blvd., and Lively Athletics, 109 N. Oak Park Ave.
“It was a way to promote shopping local, to support local businesses, but also to create fun energy,” Valdez said.
Selleria Veneta carries artisan-made leather goods made imported from Italy – a country famous for its leather products, but also one experiencing tremendous hardships at the moment due to COVID-19.
Despite offering carryout, seafood restaurant Surf’s Up, 6427 W. North Ave., has seen its business drop consistently since Governor J.B. Pritzker ordered restaurants to cease dining room operations.
“We definitely have seen business decrease probably between 35 and 40 percent,” said Denise Roy, who owns Surf’s Up with husband Eric.
Customers come into the restaurant to order food, then return to their cars and wait for an employee to bring their orders to them.
Surf’s Up employees practice social distancing and wear gloves and masks. The restaurant undergoes sanitization multiple times a day.
“We’re cleaning the restaurant every few minutes,” said Roy. “Before people leave, we’re wiping the door handles down, you know, not to offend anybody, just to make sure everything is really nice and sanitized.”
Some customers call Surf’s Up directly to place orders, but people can also place orders through Door Dash, GrubHub and Postmates.
However, customers may not be able to order food through those apps at times because Surf’s Up doesn’t always turn those apps on because the companies take a large cut of the profits – “Typically 30 to 35 percent,” Roy said.
Surf’s Up has not had to lay off any of its workers, but it has had to reduce the number of hours employees work. Although Surf’s Up business has decreased, the number of dishes per order has increased as people now buy for their whole families.
“We are getting bigger orders, but it’s just not as many orders,” she said.
The Book Table, an independent bookstore, 1045 Lake St., has moved operations entirely online. Owners Jason Smith and Rachel Weaver now take orders through email. Their wholesaler then dropships each order directly to the customer.
“It’s certainly been a difficult time as we’ve shifted into being an internet company run on our couch at home,” said Smith.
The husband and wife team have committed to paying their six employees paid time off while the brick and mortar store is closed. Smith and Weaver are also continuing to pay their health insurance premiums.
“Our intention is to pay them throughout this entire pandemic,” Smith said. “We’re doing that with the support of our customers.”
Financial support from customers comes in the form of not only buying books but buying gift cards for use when the store reopens. People can also make direct donations at the store’s website to help with expenses.
“What we have right now is hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of books that are sitting in a store that we can’t do anything with,” said Smith.
The Book Table also intends to look into aid programs through federal and state government. However, Smith still has concerns for the future.
“There is certainly worry,” he said. “I can’t imagine there’s a single person in the country right now who isn’t worried.”