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‘Shop local’ says small business owners in Kalamazoo

Small business owners encouraging people to support local stores, restaurants during pandemic
Small business owners in Kalamazoo encouraging everyone to shop locally during the pandemic.
Posted at 8:14 PM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 22:02:41-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Lana Hoffman said the Kalamazoo Mall in the downtown area is known for it’s vibrancy and ‘hustle and bustle.’

The tree-lined quarter-mile street is typically filled with people shopping in the stores or dining at the restaurants, she said.

However, since the coronavirus outbreak happened, it’s been a "ghost town," she said.

“Just today I saw another three businesses downtown that are closed (temporarily). So we’re one of maybe four that are still open down here,” said Hoffman who owns Lana’s Boutique near Michigan Avenue. “But we are still open down here. We’re nervous. We’re very nervous.”

Hoffman said since foot traffic has dropped on the Mall, it has significantly impacted their revenue. Yesterday only two or three people walked into their boutique.

She has since offered her customers online shopping through the store's Instagram and Facebook accounts.

“If they see anything on our social media forums, if they like it, they can call. We will ship it. We will deliver it within five miles. Do curbside pick up,” Hoffman said during an interview with FOX 17 on Thursday. “We will do whatever it takes to get everyone their product.”

Hoffman said being a small business owner is an ‘uncomfortable place to be.’ There’s a lot of uncertainty, not just for her but for others as well.

She stressed the importance for customers to shop locally now more than ever.

“Just thinking about not necessarily going to Amazon just because it’s easy,” Hoffman said. “Maybe think about what businesses around town, your local small businesses, maybe they carry that certain product or making sure you’re supporting the restaurants and doing the curbside pick-up or the delivery.”

Curbside pick-up and delivery is what Krystal Gast has been doing at her coffee shop Fido Motors Cafe on Fulford Street.

Gast said she and her husband, who co-owns the shop, immediately implemented an online ordering service when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed all dine-in restaurants and bars to prevent the spread of the virus.

“They can also give us the information of their cars so we can take it out to them when they get here,” Gast said. “It’s been actually really smooth. It’s been a pretty nice system.”

Gast said she’s grateful for the people who are shopping locally. Some customers have been buying gift cards online, which has helped to keep the "cash flow going" during this time.

She added that it also helps to keep the cafe well-staffed.

“We are a small, small business. A very small business,” Gast said. “We only have three staff in addition to me and I’m trying to support them as much as possible, give them the majority of the hours.”

Even though things have been going well at the cafe, it’s been hard, she said. They closed for a day to reassess how they’re going to operate, ultimately learning how to think differently. And, their two daughters have been coming to working with him on a daily basis.

However, Gast is determined to move forward, she said.

“I’m hopeful and keeping in mind that everybody’s going through the same thing,” Gast said. “I think what I’ve seen is just people are getting very creative and thinking differently and that actually makes me sort of hopeful that something good will come out of all of this.”

The Downtown Kalamazoo Partnership recently announced that they’re selling $25 gift cards online and that they’ll add an additional $10 when one is purchased. They said in a statement they’re doing this to encourage people to shop locally.

Hoffman was helping a customer at the register of her boutique who bought a gift card.

She hopes more people will either purchase one or shop inside.

“Just trying to help how ever you can to keep us alive and get through this little blip here,” Hoffman said. “So just trying to support as much as you can. It’s very hard.”