How WI Small Businesses Are Getting Back To Work After Evers' Green Light
Jamie Kyser posts an advertisement for yarn online Tuesday, one of business practices that helped Tangled Up In Hue in Eau Claire get through the tough financial times of the COVID-19 related shutdown. Kyser said altered business practices during the shutdown means the store she co-owns with Erin Klaus must be reorganized before a reopening to the public planned for Monday. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

Evers loosened restrictions Monday, allowing small shops, boutiques to reopen. 

During the shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, Wendy Smith has worked hard to maintain contact with customers of the Faith & Giggles Gift Shop she operates in Hartford with her husband, Jason Wix. 

She hosted multiple Facebook live events in recent weeks, providing a mix of information about her store and comic relief to viewers. She invited special guests to those sessions ranging from people offering business advice to a mental health expert as she sought to help her community get through this tough time.  

“I wanted to stay connected to my customers, to let them know we hadn’t forgotten about them,” Smith said Tuesday. 

Smith said she looks forward to reconnecting with her customers in person, following Monday’s announcement by Gov. Tony Evers that he would allow small boutiques and outdoor malls with one entranceway to reopen for business.

Since then qualifying businesses across the state have begun to reopen. Some did so Monday afternoon while others, like Smith, have not yet opened their doors to customers.  

She and her husband kept their business alive during the shutdown through curbside pick-ups and deliveries, limiting personal contact as they did so.

Smith said she looks forward to reopening their store as soon as Thursday, but the shop must be transformed from a miniature shipping center before that happens.

“We really had to completely change the way we were doing things,” she said. “Now we have to transition back, but that is going to be hard. It’s going to take a bit of time.”

Some other business owners said they are eager to reopen but are not yet prepared to do so. Jamie Kyser, who co-owns Tangled Up in Hue in Eau Claire with Erin Klaus, said their store must be reconfigured before it’s ready to open again. 

Items line the shelves at Tangled Up in Hue in Eau Claire in preparation to reopen the store Monday. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

To get by financially during the COVID-19 shutdown, she said, the store marketed its products on Etsy and its website, selling products not only locally but across the United States. Kyser said she plans to open the store Monday.

“We really became a shipping warehouse, so we have stuff everywhere,” Kyser said Tuesday afternoon during a brief break from selling yarn online. “We need to reorganize before we reopen.”

Like other businesses, Kyser said Tangled Up in Hue will take precautions to protect customers and employees, implementing such measures as plexiglass shields by the cash register, social distancing markers on the floor, and wearing facemasks. 

“We have to continue safety measures,” she said. “We know the virus is still in the community.”

Like Kyser and Klaus, Alborz Borokhim has not yet reopened. During the shutdown he has been busy shipping Persian rugs from the Borokhim’s Oriental Rug store he has operated on Monroe Street in Madison for 48 years. He said he plans to open soon, after he reconfigures his store.

Borokhim said abiding by the five-person-at-a-time limit won’t be hard as he rarely has more than five customers in his store at a time. He said he looks forward to interacting with customers in person again. 

“It isn’t just about doing business,” he said. “It’s about the relationships you form with your customers.”

The Foreign 5 store in downtown Chippewa Falls was open on Tuesday. The shop was shuttered in late March along with other Wisconsin businesses closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, and general manager Roxie Konsella has missed the shop’s familiar surroundings, its floral arrangements, wedding dresses, tuxedos and assorted knicknacks. 

Even more, she missed the customers. 

“It’s been so sad to see this all shut down,” Konsella said of the store where she has worked for the past 30 years and now is general manager. “There are all of those people I had gotten to know, and then they weren’t here anymore.”

On Tuesday Konsella was back at the store she had become so accustomed to. She was there periodically during the shutdown, helping with tasks at the next-door Lucy’s Delicatessen that is part of the business. 

But this time there were customers. Not many, Konsella said, but enough to rekindle her joy of interacting with them. 

“I really missed seeing them,” Konsella said of her store patrons. “The people today are excited to see us again, and we’re excited to see them.”

Similar reunions of business customers and shop owners occurred across Wisconsin beginning Monday afternoon. Many business owners, like Konsella, reported a low number of customers as people still have concerns about venturing into public spaces as COVID-19 remains active in communities.

On Tuesday state Department of Health Services figures showed 10,612 positive cases of the virus have been recorded in the state, along with 418 deaths.

While the number of cases and deaths have continued to grow in recent weeks, on Tuesday DHS officials announced five of the six metrics Evers said were necessary to reach before the state resumes regular activities have been met, the most progress on that front so far. 

Konsella said she hopes people can safely begin to congregate, and that businesses and other activities can return to pre-coronavirus conditions.

Evers’ order allowing some businesses to reopen spells out conditions, such as social distancing and limiting customers inside a store to no more than five, they must abide by. 

Konsella said her store is installing plastic shields at cash registers and will place markers on the floor reminding customers to keep distance from each other. Hand sanitizer will be at locations in the store, she said. 

“We’re going to do what we’re supposed to do to keep people and ourselves safe,” she said.