Welcome to a “New Normal” in Downtown Zionsville
Over the last couple of weeks, our local businesses have either reopened after being shut down for nearly two months or have been operating on a severely modified mode of doing business. We spoke with a few local business owners—Kent and Liz Esra, owners at Cobblestone; Lesley Hunt, owner at Lesley Jane; Shari Jenkins, owner at Noah Grant’s Grill House and Oyster Bar and Salty Cowboy; and Chris Plopper, owner at Village Mattress and Village Furniture & Mattress—to learn more about what ingenious things they were doing throughout the stay-at-home order and how they are going about the reopening process and doing business in a “new normal” pandemic society.
What These Businesses Did to Keep the “Lights” On
“Right away, we told our staff to file for unemployment because we figured—early on—they would have to,” Liz said. “And most of our employees filed around March 16–17. Then we immediately started working on a revised carryout menu and groceries menu. We offered that for a while, and then we modified the carryout menu to offer family meals for a period of time before we were able to offer our full carryout menu again.”
Shari added, “The first 10 days [of lockdown] were a nightmare. All of the restaurants [in Zionsville] offered carryout, but my percentage was so small before this. For me, this was the biggest challenge because we [local restaurants] offer not only great food but we offer service and an ambiance.”
Chris Plopper, like countless other retailers, had to switch gears from selling out of his two stores and showrooms and utilize social media, websites, email and virtual shopping experiences to sell to his customers. To add to an already challenging situation, Chris recently opened his second store, Village Furniture & Mattress, in Lebanon, Indiana.
“We were able to do some business online with Facebook, texting, emails, etc., while our showrooms were closed,” Chris said. “But we were down about 90% from what we typically do at this time in Zionsville.”
Deciding Best Practices While Going Forward
As all of Zionsville’s businesses familiarize themselves and their staff with the governor’s guidelines on how to safely “reopen” the state, they are also deciding how to reopen their businesses based on their respective comfort levels and those of their staff.
“We had a big meeting with our staff and talked about everything we need to do for the safety of our staff and guests,” Liz said. “Nobody’s gone through [a pandemic] before, so we’re having to work our way through it. We are back to serving lunch and dinner and will continue our carryout/curbside service.”
Kent added, “We are requiring our entire front- and back-of-the-house staff to wear masks and have put up signage encouraging our guests to wear masks when they’re not eating or drinking. We will also have our carryout customers pick up their orders outside to keep people from gathering in our small lobby or inside of the bar that is currently restricted.”
Retailers such as Lesley Jane, Village Mattress and Village Furniture & Mattress have also had to devise safety guidelines more specific than the general guidelines that have been published by the governor’s office.
“I’m going to require masks in my store,” Lesley shared. “If somebody is asymptomatic and not wearing a mask, they’re putting my health and my staff’s health at risk. I don’t want to be responsible for one of my staff getting sick, and I don’t want to get sick. This is a logistics nightmare for me, as it is for many other businesses. I’ve lost a dressing room because there’s not enough space to allow for social distancing, and I’m playing around with going by ‘appointment only’ to allow only one or two people in my store at the same time.”
Lesley continued, “We’re all in such uncharted territory and we’re all like family here [in Zionsville], so I’m going to treat people like I would treat members of my own family, and I’m always going to err on the side of caution. Safety is number one to me.” Lesley Jane will continue to ship and offer local delivery.
Chris added, “We provide masks for customers who don’t have their own and are encouraging that they wear one while in the showrooms. We have hand sanitizer stations throughout the showrooms and pillow guards for when customers are trying out mattresses. We are constantly cleaning and sanitizing the spaces and counters.”
While most have reopened their stores and restaurants, there are some who are going to continue their carryout-only services while they work through the logistics of reopening.
“I’m listening to my staff—it’s the same group that’s been working with me this whole time—as to what they are comfortable with, and they’re not there yet,” Shari said. “So, as of now, there is no official reopening date. The absolute earliest would be in June. We did set up our patio to make it look pretty, and we’re toying around with maybe opening just the patio in June, but we are taking this day by day and week by week. We are continuing to offer our carryout services at both restaurants.”
What the Public Can Do to Support Our Local Businesses
All of these business owners will screen their employees and are committed to keeping their staff and guests as safe as possible. They each expressed their deepest gratitude for the overwhelming support they have received and continue to receive from their customers.
Aside from shopping and dining local, these owners are asking from the public to give grace and a whole lot of patience as everyone is learning to navigate through these uncharted waters and most unprecedented times.