Small Businesses Get Creative to Stay Alive

Designer Consigner owner Michele Scott showcases many items in her store with a livestream event every Friday night – recorded by her son

Welcome to Friday Night Live.

A weekly Livestream is one way a local small business person is trying to stay essential to existing and new customers during the COVID-19 pandemic that has classified hers – and many other businesses – nonessential.

Designer Consigner on Lancaster Pike in Hockessin, an upscale resale boutique for women and men, has been in business for eleven years.

It has about 3,500 active consigners in seven states and has accumulated a mailing list of about 9,500 people. People bring in an item they wish to sell, they agree to a price and if it sells the consigner and the seller split the proceeds.

How much online business had Designer Consigner done before the COVID-19 pandemic?

“We’ve never had an online store where you could purchase all in one transaction online,” Designer Consigner Owner Michele Scott said. “We immediately shifted gears and within seven days we were up and running with a full online store where our customers can go right from our website to our shop page and shop right online.”

Scott, wearing a jacket and scarf consigned by a customer, is in her shop every day to greet customers with appointments. She misses her employees, many of whom have been with Designer Consigner for 10 or more years.

Although her store is closed because it is classified as a non-essential business under Governor John Carney’s State of Emergency, Scott is still there every day handling orders and packaging them for shipping. There is no shipping fee now for orders over $75.

If the client is local, Scott can deliver an item within an hour of the order. Any delivery is accompanied by a hand-written thank you card.

“It’s been great,” Scott said. “I don’t get a ton of orders but people go to our website and they see something they like, they can click on it, they can pay for it and check out,” Scott said.

 

Very close by to Designer Consigner, the Hockessin Book Shelf also was not heavily focused on Internet business previously. As the COVID-19 outbreak started, Hockessin Book Shelf began utilizing Bookshop.org and Libro.fm for sales and shipping of book orders.

Rebecca Dowling, owner of The Hockessin Book Shelf. Their Mystery Lovers Book Club met Tuesday night via Zoom, for a lively discussion of The Tourist.

Owner Rebecca Dowling agreed that it is important for everyone – including Hockessin Book Shelf customers – to stay home as much as possible and wear masks when out in public. “I will not have a business to reopen if I, my booksellers or my customers are not here,” Dowling said in an e-mail.

The shop has also moved its book groups to Facebook and Zoom conferencing. Its Tale for Tots has become a live event on Facebook and Instagram as well.

 

As for Hockessin Book Shelf customers and their loyalty, Dowling said “they have been great, checking in with us, buying gift certificates. Hockessin has worked hard to create a ‘shop local’ atmosphere and our customers and neighbors are trying really hard to look out for each other.”

As hours have had to be scaled back for Hockessin Book Shelf’s six part-time booksellers, Dowling was asked what is helping them get through all of this:

“Books! It’s what we all love, so it helps that we were already hardwired to escape for hours inside the worlds that books create. The community love has been outstanding. I just hope we can make it to the other side of this so that we can once again open our doors and enjoy each other’s company.”

Gleidson and Salma Alencar (with their son Christian) own The Perfect Cup in Hockessin. Their first – and only – day off since opening in December was Easter Sunday.

Also in Hockessin, the new owners of The Perfect Cup Cafe could not have imagined the current scenario when they reopened the business in late December. Gleidson Alencar, who is also a realtor with Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate, also worked at The Perfect Cup about 20 years ago. He washed dishes and moved up to become a line cook and often opened up the shop.

 

That first weekend of being open for business in late 2019, Alencar said about 250 families turned out at The Perfect Cup. He later heard grateful messages of appreciation that The Perfect Cup was back.

“People really wanted me to stay as a local coffee shop, not branded or a franchise,” Alencar said. “That way then can support a local small business. People in Hockessin really like to do that.”

Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate recently purchased $1,000 worth of coffee, baked goods and sandwiches from The Perfect Cup and asked Alencar to deliver those items to medical ICU units, over two days, at ChristianaCare

Then came the pandemic, and the state order that coffee shops and other restaurants offer take-out only.

People still come in for coffee, espresso and breakfast-and-lunch treats made with all-organic ingredients. However, Alencar said he had to let ten employees go. “It’s been really, really slow,” Alencar added. He estimated that volume was about 20 percent of the previous daily business.

 

Alencar had also made improvements to the ventilation and exhaust systems to reopen The Perfect Cup. It was extensively cleaned, and it has a new paint job. Alencar said the current trickle of customers would not be enough to cover expenses such as rent.

“A lot of people are afraid, you know, to even get out of the house,” Alencar said.

Sisters Josephine Kurtz and Erika Kurtz run Kurtz Collection on Union Street in Wilmington

In Wilmington, Kurtz Collection on North Union Street deals in rugs, furniture and home furnishings for clients locally and around the world, according to the Chief Operating Officer Erika Kurtz. The showroom is not available now for in-person shopping. Its website now promotes “free non-contact delivery” on local orders.

According to Kurtz, the business has been impacted in several ways: customers are unable to visit the store for that initial consultation, and in-home visits are also not happening due to health and safety concerns.

“It’s kind of put a stoppage on a lot of our normal course of business and also, given the current economic uncertainty, I think a lot of people are more hesitant to make larger purchases at this time as well,” Kurtz said.

 

To generate some income in the interim, Kurtz said Kurtz Collection would place more emphasis on what’s traditionally been a smaller part of its business: smaller home accessories. It also hopes to conduct more online business as maybe – just maybe – homebound citizens take a long hard look at what’s around them and think about ways their homes could be more comfortable.

Kurtz added that despite the sudden change, the business has been able to keep everyone working. Between its locations in Wilmington and at Glen Eagle Square in Glen Mills, it has a staff of about sixteen people. Most are now working from home, and functions of many of their jobs have been re-cast from their original job descriptions.

Kurtz Collection hopes some customers while plenty of time inside their homes might want to give a piece of furniture a fresh look. They also are marketing their extensive line of gifts.

“One of the great things about our team is how open they were to jump in to help with whatever was needed to keep the home fires burning until we all can get back to business as usual – hopefully, whatever usual becomes,” Kurtz said. “We’ve been really wanting to support our staff and keep everybody engaged.”

Scott, meanwhile, has not been able to keep her full-time general manager working during this closure. Two college students, who she said were instrumental in helping her develop her online business, are also working a lot from home to track business and update Designer Consigner’s website.

 

The pandemic, according to Scott, has had one positive effect: it forced her to transform and expand into the online world of shopping – which has included some online entertainment.

Since starting the Friday night Livestream (7:30 p.m. on Designer Consigner’s Facebook page), Scott said customers have turned in and remarked on her “natural” on-camera presence as her son follows her around the store with an i-Phone. The focus this week was to be on potential Mother’s Day gifts such as jewelry, accessory items, wallets, purses and scarves.

“People love it,” Scott said.

Patterson-Schwartz, meanwhile, kept The Perfect Cup busy with a recent purchase of $1,000 worth of sandwiches, wraps, baked goods and coffee for delivery to about 100 healthcare workers at ChristianaCare on two occasions last week.

Alencar is hoping those tables and chairs at the shop that has stood in Hockessin for 24 years can be occupied once again soon.

“This is a part of the community.”


  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LinkedIn

About the Contributor

Mark Fowser

Mark Fowser

Mark Fowser is a veteran broadcast-journalist in Delaware and New Jersey. He has anchored and reported with WDEL, WHYY, Delaware1059, WILM and Delaware First Media (now Delaware Public Media). Mark lives in New Castle.

1 Comment

  • Great articles, Christi! I will definitely be going online to check out these small businesses. Thanks for the helpful information on what’s going on in Delaware.