Essential Vs. Non-Essential Business Openings in Covid-19 Era

A TALE OF TWO BUSINESSES. While Harbor Freight Tools has been labeled an essential business for the entirety of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Toy Nest wasn’t lucky enough to receive that designation. It was unfortunate for the new toy library since it officially opened at the end of March, but adapted by putting its extensive catalog online and allowing for pick ups. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)

Toy Nest and Harbor Freight Tools are two new Falls Church businesses weathering the Covid-19 tempest with the same gusto after they held their grand openings last month, but both had to traverse different paths due to how they’re judged as essential and non-essential businesses.

Harbor Freight Tools was able to keep its doors open at all 28 of its Virginia locations, but not so for the Toy Nest, which many parents and caregivers would dispute.

“It was perfect timing with the quarantine,” Mollie Morneau said, a customer at Toy Nest who has three children ages five, eight and nine, said. “We started renting first week so we could swap out some of our toys while we were home.”

The toy shop on North Washington Street is a library, open to borrowers looking for a place to play and take toys home. The neatly arranged shelves are filled with games, puzzles, make-believe, science, fantasy and more for all ages from infants on up to 10 and beyond.

Lisa Bourven is the owner and founder whose idea for the “toybrary” began on a family trip to visit her parents in Texas.

At their grandparents’, her two children, now ages 5 and 8, didn’t have any toys to play with.

“We went to a Goodwill and the only thing we could find was a Big Wheel” in poor condition, she said.

Wouldn’t it be nice, Bourven wondered, to find a place to borrow toys temporarily? Toys that wouldn’t consume a lot of space?

Necessity forced this mother’s invention, and after she discussed her idea with hundreds of friends and moms and conducted lots of research, Bourven fast-forwarded her dream to make it happen in Falls Church.

But it turns out, a toy library was not a new idea: They’ve been around since the Great Depression, Bourven explained on a tour of her shop. But the closest one was in Philadelphia.

She researched and spent hours gathering toys, entering data in her online catalog, and building with her husband and cousin.

Harbor Freight Tools conducts lots of research, too, before it settles on a spot, said spokesman Craig Hoffman in a phone interview.

Falls Church has been on Harbor Freight’s radar for a couple of years, and the company is still looking to fill 35 positions at the store. Basically, it’s business as usual for Harbor Freight, which has opened over 25 new locations nationwide during the pandemic.

“People need access to tools,” Hoffman said. “When the pandemic started to really spread and governments and cities started lockdown orders, there was an exemption for essential businesses, one of them being hardware businesses.”

Both Hoffman and Bourven emphasized their stores’ practices of safeguarding against the novel coronavirus, requiring face coverings and social distancing.

The company “immediately made some accommodation adjustments” like limiting the number of customers per store.

Hoffman said Harbor Freight stepped up its cleaning protocols and instituted daily temperature checks for employees. The hardware store even shortened its hours to build in more time to restock and give its associates time to attend to their own personal needs.

HARBOR FREIGHT, meanwhile, has thrived, with its Bailey’s Crossroads store being one of 26 opened nationwide since the onset of the pandemic. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)

Bourven sanitizes toys when they are returned and has a dishwasher on site to wash them. For bigger toys, she uses a bleach wipe. She encourages everyone to use hand sanitizers in plentiful supply at her front desk.

In the age of Covid-19 pandemic, the Toy Nest’s online catalog is a luxury which parents use to reserve toys and they may pick them up curbside at the shop or come in — a big hit with customers.

“I wasn’t prepared for how much they love it,” said Kristin Wajert, another shopper at the Toy Nest who was referencing her five-year-old daughter and six-year-old son’s interest in the store. “I’ve been letting them pick out toys from the catalog. There are giant vehicles that go up and down and make noise, things we’d never buy. We keep them a couple of weeks until we’re ready to bring them back and get something new.”

Appointments are encouraged so no one has to wait outside, Bourven said. The store can accommodate two families at a time.

Anyone can check out the toys usually on bi-weekly basis, if they are available. About 15 to 20 percent are checked out at any one time which the catalog lists.

Bouvren touts the library’s membership as an incredible value, but membership is not required to shop and borrow.

Drop-in rates start at $10 per child, and with borrowing privileges, $15. Monthly memberships start at $25. For every annual membership sold, a scholarship is awarded to a family in need, and right now, Bourven has several to give away.

The Toy Nest is bigger than it looks. The “pretend section” has lots of costumes (heads up, Halloween outfitters) , trains, and construction “equipment.”

Water guns, board games and riding toys are arranged by category on shelves.

Harbor Freight Tools has plenty of equipment, too.

Compared to “big box” retailers, the company prides itself on its smaller size which shortens shopping and store walking time to make faster purchases.

Its prices “are usually much lower than the competition,” Hoffman said.

The company recently donated its entire supply of nitrile gloves, N-95 masks and face shields to hospitals and it awards $1 million a year to high school skilled trade teachers and programs.

Meanwhile, Bourven’s customers, mothers of children ages two to nine who were interviewed by phone, enthusiastically endorsed the Toy Nest’s concept.

Morneau, the mother of three, said her daughter learned to ride a bike using the Toy Nest’s balance bicycle.

Her children “went wild” over the animal figurines and wooden blocks which they used to build forts and make pens for animals in battles of rhinos, dinosaurs, and bison. “It was hysterical,” their mom said.

Wajert won a raffle and gets a free party whenever the public health crisis subsides. Bourven’s party room allows hosts to bring their own treats and use the play area with all 1,000 plus toys and the kitchen.

Amy Wilson’s husband helped Bourven and her husband build the Toy Nest.

“It’s a brilliant idea because there are so many toys,” said Wilson, the mother of a two-year-old.

As every parent knows, per Wilson, “Some toys last about a week, and then they lose interest.”