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Amidst Retail Crisis, a Group of College Town Stores Are Innovating

Michigan Business Network
November 19, 2020 11:00 AM

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Despite national drops in retail, East Lansing shops fight to survive during pandemic

EAST LANSING, Mich.— At the height of quarantine, Downtown East Lansing had empty streets and deserted stores. Tens of thousands of students stayed in their hometowns and off campus. Not unlike the rest of the United States, businesses felt the effects of an unprecedented disruption of commerce. And yet, businesses in Downtown East Lansing are trying unique ways to engage their customers in the new business landscape and innovate how they do what they do.

Many started with offering curbside options for their business. Woven Art Yarn Shop on Grove Street puts pick-ups for customers outside the store in cubbies, easily visible through the store windows to ensure the right customers get the right packages. For customers who are comfortable entering the store, it allows two shoppers at a time, requires mask-wearing and asks
customers to use hand sanitizer when entering. But they’re going beyond the regular adaptations to continue the customer experience they consider a part of their brand.

“Through our personalized shopping and no-contact curbside pickup, we can help customers buy our products without them ever stepping foot in the store,” said Meg Larned Croft of Woven Art Yarn Shop. This personalized shopping looks like Zoom calls and Facebook exchanges
to share images and colors with customers, helping them pick the perfect yarn or patterns without leaving their homes. This week, they announced local delivery with orders over $20. “We also are using social media to share our products and create a sense of
community within East Lansing.”

Other Downtown East Lansing businesses are innovating by helping the community. Seams
Fabric on Grove Street, which is owned by City of East Lansing councilmember Jessy Gregg,
is leveraging its fabric products and its network to create masks for healthcare professionals,
nursing homes and elder care facilities, schools and anywhere else that needs them.

RetroDuck on Abbot Road is holding a fundraising campaign for fellow businesses. The company launched www.eastlansingtees.com where it sells shirts from local businesses to bring in more customers and revenue for other businesses.

“Our line of vintage tees featuring shirts from local bars and restaurants appeals to the nostalgia of alumni and other members of the East Lansing community,” said Luke Hackney of RetroDuck. That nostalgia factor helps connect RetroDuck to potential customers nationwide, not just in the Lansing area. “For each shirt sold, we donate a portion of the sale back to the business featured.”

As a result of closures, capacity changes and new restrictions being announced daily and looming, the retail industry is reeling. According to Statista, consumer spending on certain items such as groceries, household supplies and home entertainment increased, while spending on items such as apparel, accessories and out-of-home entertainment decreased.

In August 2020 while total retail sales in the United States rose by approximately 5.6% year-over-year, clothing and clothing accessory store sales fell by 23.5% year-over-year in that same period. Small businesses that sell clothing were hit hard by the pandemic.

So many businesses traditionally dependent on college student and campus-related foot traffic are turning to the internet to innovate. Over the past few months, a number of Downtown EL businesses have been increasing their e-commerce abilities.

One of East Lansing’s legacy businesses is doing just that. Saper Galleries and Custom Framing on Albert Street has its inventory displayed online at sapergalleries.com. It also has a LiveChat link so customers can have their questions answered almost every hour of each day. The gallery delivers worldwide and publishes an e-newsletter to inform followers of what’s new.

“We serve a worldwide client base through our online business, so in many respects we are not negatively impacted by the pandemic,” said Roy Saper of Saper Galleries and Custom Framing. “For our team members and guests who do wish to visit the gallery we practice daily cleaning and follow mandated safety requirements.”

Campus Corner on Grand River Avenue is also another business having success with a new e-commerce platform. Customers can order online at CampusCornerEL.com. The store also has curbside pick-up and pick-up in store for online orders.

“Downtown East Lansing thrives on the Michigan State University community and residents, but due to the pandemic the MSU community is not active,” said Marilyn Shroeger of Campus Corner. With e-commerce, students can order from their hometowns and alumni can shop more
frequently than just their visits back to campus. “We appreciate the residents' patronage and will continue to devise ways to keep patrons and staff safe.”

Downtown East Lansing has information about which stores are now offering delivery, curbside pick-up, shipping and more on its website at https://www.cityofeastlansing.com/2076/Downtown-East-Lansing. Information about local stores, bars, restaurants and other businesses are also shared on its social media channels by searching Downtown East Lansing or @DowntownEL, or visiting:





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