How small retailers are changing after the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 8:19 AM, Jul 13, 2021

DETROIT (WXYZ) — All week long on The Rebound Detroit, we're shining a light on metro Detroit's small businesses and the people who work tirelessly to make them successful.

It's been three weeks since our state's remaining COVID-related restrictions lifted, so we're exploring the hit small businesses have taken during the pandemic, what recovery is looking like now, and the road ahead.

Related: How the national worker shortage is affecting small businesses in metro Detroit

One sector of small business hit especially hard by stay-at-home orders and capacity restrictions has been the retail space; stores often have a decent amount of overhead and like restaurants, banquet halls, and music venues, still had to pay rent when their space was empty.

“In terms of me just being at home and operating my online business, it was actually just a glimpse into how easy this can be," Corina Baldwin told Action News. She owns Little High Flyers, a children's clothing boutique. She's speaking about the onset of the pandemic, and realizing during quarantine that being at home for her, wasn't so bad.

After five years with a brick and mortar store in Midtown on Cass, January Corina decided to close up the physical shop, though she's still selling online.

As a small business owner she didn't have the staff to avoid coming into the store herself each day, and with a young son learning from home, he often came with her; it was a lot to juggle.

This way, Corina feels she's still allowing her business to thrive while putting her family first.

“My heart didn’t want to, but just in terms of what made sense, it just made more and more sense to just go online," she said.

Corina already had a loyal customer base and an established website pre-pandemic.

This is not an uncommon scenario right now according to Jennyfer Crawford of Ask Jennyfer LLC and All Things Detroit. Several of her small business clients are opting to stay open but move more online.

When the pandemic hit, Crawford launched All Things Marketplace. She likens it to an Amazon, only for the little guys.

“I use Amazon, I know a lot of small businesses that actually sell on Amazon and they’re very successful with it," she said. "The only thing for me with Amazon is if I’m buying from a small business I don’t really know that I am," she said.

All Things Marketplace aims to connect local consumers with metro Detroit companies, and customers can search by item, store, or type of business.

“We do shipping and fulfillment for all of the businesses on the marketplace," she said, also a service she started provided during the pandemic.

Crawford has also seen smaller retailers opt for "remote" shopping instead of just online shopping. Instead of dragging items into a virtual cart, customers are having live conversations and even seeing demonstrations through their screen.

“You can actually see your customers so you’re matching a face with those products," Crawford told Action News. "I know some people do Facebook Live shopping.”

Corina doesn't have any immediate plans to re-open a physical store for Little High Flyers. She opts for frequent pop-up events, like the ones Crawford organizes, to continue face-to-face engagement with her customers.

“We do local delivery, next day delivery. Something I would have never had the time to do when I was at the store," she said.