How small retailers are adapting to COVID-19

by | Mar 26, 2020

While COVID-19 has upended business as usual, retailers have come up with ways to respect the social distancing and shelter-in-place guidelines that can keep their employees and community safe while still serving customers, according to a recent National Retailer Federation (NRF) report.

As of late March, states across the US had implemented some form of social distancing and/or shelter-in-place regulations. Some had instructed “nonessential” retailers to close bricks-and-mortar locations.

Like most Americans, retailers prioritize the health and safety of their employees and customers. Many are following CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and limiting interactions between people, according to the NRF report.

At the same time, retailers need to continue serving customers to remain in business and here are just a few examples of how they are doing that.

Brownsboro Hardware & Paint, with locations in Louisville and Prospect, Ky., has long offered free delivery of its grills within certain areas. While hardware stores are considered essential in Kentucky and remain open, Brownsboro added curbside pickup, as well as delivery of a wider range of items.

“That allows customers who prefer not to come within the store to still access the inventory. We want to keep people safe and as comfortable as possible,” owner Jim Lehrer said in the NRF report.

Brownsboro already had in place a system for paperwork and delivery, so the change required adding another element. After ringing up the item, an employee creates a delivery ticket and places the purchase near the front door. Customers call as they approach the store and an employee will either place the item on the curb or in the back of the customer’s car.

Paint has been an especially big seller, Mr Lehrer says: With more people working from home, they have more time to get to household projects they would been putting off, he reasons.

“Tiny but mighty,” is how Claudia Towles, owner of aMuse Toys in Baltimore, describes her store. Open since 2001 and spanning 600 square feet, aMuse Toys offers everything from arts and crafts to musical instruments to puzzles.

In mid-March, Towles and the owner of a neighbouring bookstore jointly developed plans to deliver purchases to customers, and to make them available through curb-side pickup. That allowed them to continue conducting business, even though the stores were no longer open to customers, according to the report.

“Day by day, we are figuring out how it can be sustainable and how to get to the other side. We uploaded 500 SKUs in two days,” aMuse Toys owner Claudia Towles said.


Many customers of The Bookshelf in Cincinnati, Ohio, are in their eighties and older, says co-owner Chris Weber. In addition, the three co-owners of the store are over 50.

Starting in mid-March, the owners began limiting the number of customers in the store at any given time to two, along with their caregivers when necessary. Employees wearing gloves would show the products, all at a distance of at least six feet. Customers weren’t required to sign receipts, according to the NRF report.

While it could, The Bookshelf offered free delivery. As of late March, it could only offer curbside pickup and mail deliveries. And customers have been placing orders, particularly now that libraries have closed.