Before the state officially shut down in March, Henri Helander and Jeanne Bloom, co-owners of To and From, a nail salon in Darien, felt they could no longer stay open while keeping employees and customers safe. “As we started letting clients know we were shutting down, we started getting calls asking how they could help us,” Helander recalls. “Could they buy products, or purchase a service and tip the team? How could they remove their gel polish without coming in?”
Embracing the old adage that “done is better than perfect,” Helander and Bloom quickly executed an idea they had been tossing around for some time: emergency nail kits with all of the necessities to perform a salon-quality manicure from home with a client’s choice of polish and special kits for gel polish removal. Between the sale of the kits and a GoFundMe page, To and From hasn’t laid off any of its employees, including part-timers.
“Well received is an understatement,” Helander says. “We’re getting orders every week and have been hearing demand for pedicure kits, which we’ll be offering in the coming weeks. I think sometimes you can see your biggest success when your back is against the wall.” He plans on expanding and improving on kits to offer alternatives to weekly appointments so that the salon can operate with social distancing.
The kits are just one example of quick action and innovation spurred by business owners across the state who were forced to think differently to keep revenue coming in.
As a physician, SOMA Movement Studio owner Mary Badon knew early on that her business would be slowed for more than a few weeks. Instead of shuttering, Badon created SOMA@Home to bring her West Hartford Pilates studio directly to her clients. She partnered with a shipper who could respect social-distancing guidelines and deliver sanitized Pilates machines, known as reformers, directly to her clients’ homes. Instead of gathering dust in the studio, clients can use the rented equipment in their own homes and attend two-way classes on Zoom.
“I knew unless I relied on aid I’d need to do something different for my clients,” Badon says. “They rely on me for specific goals or to work through past injuries.” Now, SOMA@Home offers 10 classes per week, and subscribers can attend unlimited sessions. “Many have even scaled up their classes and are getting quite strong,” she says. “There’s also a community aspect starting to build. Everyone is focused on their workouts, but for those few minutes before and after, it’s like running into a friend at your favorite studio.”
As the state works through the reopening process, Badon says she will continue and even expand SOMA@Home. She has additional reformers to rent out and is partnering with Farmington Valley Physical Therapy to offer tele-physical therapy.
For Niantic retailer Anna Pearl’s Curiosities, closures only amplified practices the shop embraced before the crisis. The treasure trove of antique jewelry, home accessories, and oddities offers an experience of discovery best enjoyed with plenty of touching and trying on. However, co-owner Annie Egan has been working hard to recreate that experience on Instagram and Etsy. Egan publishes picturesque groupings, hosts live sales, and educates consumers on various periods. “I’m deeply thankful it was something we were pushing before this happened,” she says. “We were trying to reach out to a broader audience because we have so many people who only visit our beach town once a year.”
Pivoting to online retail has had its advantages (like reaching a larger audience) and its drawbacks. “There’s no person-to-person contact, and jewelry is such a personal thing,” Egan says. To replicate that experience online, she will create custom collections for customers who reach out looking for a particular object. “You just have to be creative in the ways you’re marketing yourself and your store and make sure you’re accessible.”
For Everthine Bridal Boutique owner Chelsea Tyler-McNamara, staying accessible means Zoom and FaceTime appointments and even modeling dresses on herself for brides-to-be. “Everyone is still very excited and happy and positive,” Tyler-McNamara says. “It’s been a breath of fresh air to come into work every day and have some sort of normalcy.”
While many brides have pushed back their weddings to 2021, some are deciding to elope or want a small ceremony and need a wedding dress. Some are ordering sight unseen through Everthine’s virtual appointments, while others are opting to pay a small fee for the Madison-based shop to ship three gowns to try on in the comfort of their own homes.
“It’s been really cool. You’re forced to be so real and vulnerable and open with these people,” Tyler-McNamara says. And she knows that business will still need to evolve as reopening becomes an option. “We’ll have to come up with ways to make our appointments more successful down the road,” she says. “Less people will be able to attend bridal appointments. It will feel intimate, but it will be more special on a smaller scale.”
Here are a few ways to support local businesses in these tough times:
Order craft boxes, take-home art kits, games, toys, plants and gardening gear, clothing and more from shops in your area. In addition to restaurants, many retailers offer shipping and curbside pickup.
Buy gift cards, merchandise and other goods and services.
Check with businesses to see if they’ve shifted to new services you can use. Some cleaners offer disinfecting services.
If you have the means, continue paying people who provide you with regular services, such as cleaning people, nannies and stylists.
Check out your town and local business groups’ websites for more information on local businesses. It’s a great way to learn about shops in your area and what they’re offering.
Share any business-support strategies with family, friends and neighbors, especially on social media.