Small business mitigations

Broadway Jewelry & Rare Coins sales associate Cody Stetson reaches in the case for a Christmas silver round collectors coin, a popular holiday gift item, on Tuesday. Stetson said the Bradley store has been less busy than usual this holiday season and new mitigations may further slow the flow of customers.

With the holiday season set to begin within days and the retailers’ most crucial economic window set to open — the Christmas shopping season — Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued new restrictions as part of the state’s effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The governor handed down tighter guidelines as to what limits retailers must adhere to and the news was obviously not what shop owners and operators wanted to hear.

“This is just another challenge,” said Angela Morrey, executive director of the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce. “I think it’s amazing so many businesses have been able to keep operating and open for business. I don’t think anything is off the table as to how to keep a business alive.”

Manteno store co-owner Val Kobylarczyk, who owns and operates Made For Me Boutique with her sister, Theresa Colagrossi, said business owners are subject to nearly constant change to survive in the world dealing with a pandemic.

She noted when they started their business two years ago that less than 10 percent of their sales were completed through their website. Today, half of their business is done online.

“We are adapting to these changes. These are sink-or-swim moments,” she said.

Asked how this new round of guidelines will impact the boutique, Kobylarczyk said she remains positive.

“I would like to think we are going to stay strong. We have made adjustments,” she said.

She noted they have changed some of their inventory, having incorporated some lower-cost items.

She said they anticipated the second wave of COVID.

“During the first wave, we were scared to death. We asked, ‘Are we going to lose everything?’ We kept asking how can we adapt and change?” she said.

They adapted by increasing their online presence. They began delivering orders. They offered free shipping.

She believes shoppers have changed as well. She sees more people committing to the “Shop Local, Buy Local” philosophy.

“It’s faith over fear,” she said.

Sarah Marion, Manteno Chamber of Commerce director, noted the governor’s expanded restrictions couldn’t have come at worse time. Holiday shopping is the key season for retail. It is the season which normally makes or breaks a retailer’s year.

Marion wonders why there is this widespread panic regarding COVID. She said most everyone anticipated these numbers increasing and the public is largely following the guidelines.

She believes most Manteno businesses were prepared for what is now taking place. If nothing else, she said, 2020 has taught business owners how to change strategies on a moment’s notice.

“Businesses have become good at pivoting and making things work,” she said, adding it’s now up to the public to support their community businesses.

“If we all just throw up our hands and give up, Manteno will be a ghost town by May or June. We all know this is frustrating. But we can get through it together,” she said.

Cody Stetson, a sales associate at Broadway Jewelers in Bradley, said the shop has not been as busy. Promotions are being tried, including a Ladies Night from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday.

“We’re worried that more mitigations might mean less people going out shopping in general, let alone coming in to small, brick-and-mortar businesses,” Stetson said.

Back in Manteno, Katie Regan, owner of Two Whisks Bakery, a 4-year-old business, said she will follow the guidelines.

“My main priorities are the health and safety of our customers, staff and my family,” she said.

As of Tuesday and for likely the remainder of the year, curbside pickup and advance ordering will be how this business functions.

“We’re going to be a cautious as we are instructed to be,” she said. “If we want to battle back, we need to listen and comply to what the experts are telling us. I believe in this community. As soon as I announced curbside delivery, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I’m confident this community will support us.”

She knows there are businesses which may operate in a different matter.

“Everyone has to do what they think is best for them. I’m choosing to listen,” she said. “It’s been rough. I’m confident next year will rebound.”

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