As New York City enters reopening Phase 1 of 4 this week, there are many questions swirling about what shopping will look like.
Back in the beginning of May, Time Out New York reached out to shop owners and employees across the five boroughs, to get a feel for when they think they'll reopen and what the new normal for shopping may look like.
Shopping is often an unhurried activity that usually holds no timeline. On a Saturday, New Yorkers may spend hours strolling neighborhoods and popping in and out of candle stores, clothing stores, record shops and book stores, looking for something to purchase. Many look forward to peering around glittering showroom floors, rummaging through one-of-a-kind vintage knickknacks, or meeting up with a friend just to find something enticing to wear to a dinner that night. In-person shopping is as much about the experience, as it is about what you find.
While there's bound to be lasting changes in the retail landscape, and some boutiques may be forced to shutter their doors permanently due to financial strains from the pandemic, many are brainstorming how their business models can operate under these new circumstances. Under Phase 1, which NYC entered on June 8, nonessential retailers are now allowed to offer curbside pickup.
Shops have been preparing for the day the city allows them to fully open their doors. Cuomo stated late this spring that businesses wanting to restart work would individually need to develop plans for their reopening, including enforced social distancing between employees and customers. But questions remain: Will folks still be able to try on clothes in a fitting-room? Will there be no-touching merchandise policies? Will people shop in timed shifts?
Before Phase 1 began, some shops relied on selling inventory online for curbside pickups and doing home deliveries of online merchandise, like Lower East Side design haven Coming Soon. They arrange shopping by appointments for customers wanting to stop by their Orchard Street and Allen Street locations. Williamsburg-based design home goods and furniture store Home Union also arranges appointment-only visits and has an active remote business through their Instagram account with 95,000 followers, allowing shoppers to buy directly via message and email.
Now that the city is in Phase 1, large retailers like Nordstrom and Macy's have confirmed that their flagships will be opening curbside services and contactless online order pickup and returns for New Yorkers.
Nordstrom's NYC Flagship, Nordstrom Men’s Store and Nordstrom Local neighborhood service hubs in the Upper East Side and West Village will welcome customers to their curbs on Thursday, June 11. A rep from Macy's confirmed their NYC stores will also offer contactless curbside pickups, Monday through Friday from 11am to 5pm.
Other New York retailers take pride in their in-person experiences—and for some local shops, photographing inventory for online or social media only just isn't as practical.
Feng Sway, a gift-shop oasis in Greenpoint that's wall to wall with kooky vintage clothing like silk kimonos and chain halter tops, antique furniture, eclectic objects and exotic plants, has that exact fear. "One of our biggest call to action at the store is the environment," said Feng Sway honcho Kate Lauter back in May. "It just can’t be reproduced online and it's hard to even photograph because there’s so much going on, and so much to find in every corner. In person, it has a specific effect, so this [situation] is truly a bummer. But, we have already been thinking about reducing the quantity of merchandize we have on our floor, so we can further open up the space and create more room for safe social distancing sometime soon.”
Come June 10, however, Feng Sway will reopening their doors for a soft opening with reduced hours. "We’re allowing up to 5 people into the store at a time and masks are required," says Lauter. "Our big doors will be open for fresh air flow. We are also offering private shopping appointment to those who prefer to have the space solo with the aid of one shop kweens." The vintage haven will also offer free no contact pick up for online orders.
Plenty of retail shopping experiences require an in person experience and a lot of touching of floor merchandise to find what you want. Think of a bookstore trip to McNally Jackson, The Strand, or Sister's Uptown Bookstore. You usually check every categorized section, pick up a book, read the back sleeve, pick up another, place it back down and so forth.
At Brooklyn's Spoonbill & Sugartown Books, they've already punched numbers to come up with a social distancing strategy. "Based on our square footage of 1,200 square feet, we feel letting in 10 people at a time is the magic number to satisfy social distancing requirements, which includes two Spoonbill staff," owner Jonas Kyle told us. Kyle is thinking of setting up a light stand outside the store that shines green when capacity has not been reached yet, and red when it has. Disposable gloves will be available inside, and customers will be need to wear masks. While closed, Spoonbill has also started doing curbside purchases, where they leave books outside and have folks pay by Venmo or PayPal.
Similar to shopping a bookstore, browsing a record shop for new gems to add to your music arsenal is also hands-on.
One of the city's beloved record stores, A-1 Record Shop in the East Village are already planning one way to provide customers with a similar record shop experience in this new normal—whether folks are physically coming inside the store or not this summer.
A1 Record Shop veterans Shef and Jeremy, who have manned the shop for over 15 years tell us, "Sifting through inventory in a record store is really what is enjoyable about record shopping for a lot of people. So, we're wanting to create record starter packs, to keep that element of surprise. It would be, say, 50 disco records for 100 bucks, with packs across all genres. A starter pack for classic soul, another for new wave, golden era hip hop, classic rock and so on. It's a way you can still buy blindly for a cheap rate, and it gives people a chance to sift through a bag of things they might not already know."
Then, there's the question of foot traffic. In a city built on tourism, will there be a decline in shoppers?
"What we're really concerned about, and I’m sure other shops are too, is lack of tourism this year,” explains Shef of A1 Record Shop. "I would imagine in the coming month there’s going to be [way less] tourism in New York. For us, the public demand for music is still going to be there, especially if people are spending more time inside, but while we’re going to continue working on new ways of staying in the mix, the reality is there’s going to be a lot of less people shopping in person.”
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