Crises, like the coronavirus pandemic, can seriously impact businesses’ typical way of doing things, but they’re also opportunities for innovation to salvage — and later, expand — on the services they offer. Owners from fitness studios to florists in and around the City of Falls Church have adapted in real time to meet the demands of customers who still have room in the budget for more than just the basics.
Ever since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic two weeks ago, local and state officials in the U.S. have been gradually expanding measures to contain its spread among communities. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s news conference on Monday, where he announced his executive order that all non-essential businesses close by midnight Tuesday, has crippled the foot traffic that most businesses rely on to keep going.
Quinn Auction Galleries is one of the businesses that will have to close up shop following the governor’s announcement.
Co-owner Matt Quinn, who runs his auctions out of a building on S. Washington Street, had been able to successfully pivot to an online auction for the previous two weeks. With the help of a software platform, Quinn’s had joined in an industry trend that has been growing over the past 20 years where bids, payment and previews could all take place remotely. Of course, this being a local business, purveyors who wanted to get hands-on with items could make an appointment to come in and check them out; Quinn was just limiting them to two patrons per appointment to honor social distancing protocols.
“In this pandemic world, it’s all about limiting social interaction,” Quinn said, who added that his employees are like family and that is why “We want to make the environment as safe as possible for the staff.”
The buyer base remained strong for the first two digital auctions, according to Quinn. Highest bidders would have their items cleaned and placed on a table outside so they could come and grab them in a safe, non-transmissible way. But with Northam following Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s order to close down even more businesses, store activity will halt for the time being. Quinn will now move forward with his latest plan of covering employee’s health insurance and other expenses while they ride this out.
Hogan’s order to close non-essential businesses cut off a wholesaler to Galleria Florist just outside of City limits. That decision will likely cause owner Alisa Rabinovich to shutter temporarily after this week as well, which is unfortunate considering she was using that wholesaler’s excess product for new virtual flower classes.
In those classes, Rabinovich — who’s personally a wallflower — would take groups of four viewers through a demonstration of how to go through either a short or tall flower kit complete with stems and greens over Facebook. She admits she was winging it, but she was getting more comfortable in front of the camera to the point where she was going to archive them on a YouTube channel.
Green thumbers both near and far may be bummed about the florist shutting down, but Rabinovich isn’t. She understands that safety is the top priority right now and has a new way to connect with customers once the business does re-open.
Fitness establishments and bookstores seem to be coping with the closures the best.
Pure Barre Falls Church has been putting out two daily classes ever since last week, according to owner Jasmine Palmer. The classes come in the mid-morning around 9 a.m. and another one in the afternoon during the 4 o’clock hour. The videos are posted on the store’s Facebook page for 24 hours, giving their members who may be on different schedules a full day to “attend” a session before they are swapped out for a new batch the next day.
One More Page Books and Victory Comics debuted their curbside pickup service in the past week as well.
Amber Taylor, the events coordinator at One More Page, said that “the phone has been ringing off the hook and online orders keep coming in” with the store’s new pickup service.
Since they had already closed down to walk-ins, Taylor mentioned that One More Page has rearranged the store for books being picked up and books being delivered. A delivery route on Monday, Taylor said, took the driver three hours and traversed about 50 miles between North Arlington, Falls Church and McLean.
The biggest draw for One More Page has been their new surprise box option. Staffers picked up the idea on a Facebook group for independent bookstore owners where they would ask customers the kinds of books they liked and didn’t like. For $100, One More Page would then fill it up and deliver it — a service that Taylor says will continue post-quarantine.
Victory Comics owner Jeff Weaver told the News-Press that things have moved a bit slower for them. He explained that the store is often buzzing with over a hundred visitors during the weekends — and that comic book fans like to come in and browse the selection themselves. Ten-person caps on who can come in have hampered patrons’ favorite way to buy.
Another contributing factor is that suppliers Diamond Comics and Alliance Games, according to a Victory Comics Facebook post, are halting their weekly new releases. It’s dragged down demand, Weaver added, but he mentioned that “TV only lasts so long,” so he expects business to tread water for the time being.
Karma Yoga is also doing virtual classes. There’s an active YouTube yoga community online already, so classes being delivered in this form isn’t necessarily out-of-the-box, but owner Olivia Jeffers said it’s been a learning curve with instructors having to find space in their homes while practicing members get surprise guests in the form of pets and children who wander on camera.
Jeffers noted that only a handful of people have paused their memberships while a small amount have taken advantage of new, slightly cheaper online membership options. And it’s something that Karma is considering making a regular membership option since it allows the studio to reach more people. But right now, it’s just about adjusting to the flow of doing what is often a group-bonding activity in the isolation of each person’s homes.
“Yoga is not a practice of perfect body and perfect mind, it’s a practice of meeting ourselves where we are at this moment in our imperfect lives,” Jeffers said. “This is a real test of that.”
One business that is essential, yet went virtual anyway? Dr. Gordon Theisz’s medical practice.
What was maybe 10 percent of his business just last week is up to 50 percent in this current week. After finding a good platform that checks the HIPAA boxes so insurance companies can cover the “visits,” Theisz has been able to diagnose patients with ailments from back pain to clearing them of strep throat all from a quick video call over the phone.
He’s noticed a drop off of in-person trips since patients are avoiding having their usual physicals or getting a closer look at their ankle sprain. But he has seen an uptick of those with respiratory illnesses — and those who are just plain worried — reaching out about virtual appointments.
It’s also been a good way for Theisz to vet for Covid-19. He expects a good chunk of people to get it, but only the ones with severe symptoms, specifically shortness of breath, would be called into the office. It’s also just about tests, with the three to four day waiting period now hopefully making way for tests that can be done within hours in the very near future.