Outfitting the running community requires a lot more running around than it used to.
Gary Taylor, co-founder of Go! Running in Little Rock, is among the ranks of local business owners adjusting to the restrictions on commerce and new ways of doing business made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic.
Literally, Taylor says, he and his team had to adjust on the run.
“It’s all hands on deck.”
As a running gear and apparel retailer, Taylor had to accelerate previously laid plans to offer online shopping while he and his employees adjusted to limited store hours and transitioned to new duties, which include making deliveries to the order-from-home crowd.
Depending on what direction they’re driving at the end of the day, Taylor or one of his staff might find themselves with merchandise to drop off.
“I even posted on social media the other day where I just kind of jokingly said, ‘Shop local because you won’t see Jeff Bezos show up at your front door with a package, but you might see a business owner,’” Taylor says.
It’s all a matter of who can do what’s necessary and when. That’s not necessarily unusual for a small business, where there may be no nightly cleaning crew or in-house tech support.
Only now the Go! Running team has had to figure out ways to do even more.
“It’s the life of a small business really,” Taylor says. “You can’t turn around and have your accounting department take care of the loan and your systems guys take care of the systems.”
Unlike local restaurants which, if open at all, have been offering only deliveries and curbside pickup, Go! Running was able to remain open for limited customer traffic. But even the scaled back hours took some getting used to.
Business owners are faced with accepting the changes and precautions even as they grapple with the threat of lost revenues. Shortened business hours, delivery service and working from home are all part of the new reality, says Gabe Holmstrom, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.
“They’re just changing their business models to make it work, and then others have just closed down,” Holmstrom says. “They’ve shut the doors for the time being. Each business is making the decision on what they think is in their own best interest.”
Arguably bars and restaurants are the everyday businesses that have felt the greatest impact, with some closing for the duration. Little Rock has been celebrated for its burgeoning dining and nightlife scene, and it’s important now to throw business their way in the form of to-go and delivery orders, Holmstrom says.
To that end, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership has set up an online virtual tip jar for service industry employees.
Holmstrom says it is imperative customers patronize their favorite places until the day they can reopen or return to business as usual.
“I think that’s highly essential,” Holmstrom says. “The ones that are able to stay open are. That’s helping to keep the localized economy moving where the money is changing hands.”
If owners can pay their employees, the employees can spend dollars on the local economy, Holmstrom says.
“If your money goes online somewhere and it heads out of town, it doesn’t do you any good,” he says, “but if you keep it in town, it’ll do you some good.”
Businesses open for traffic like Go! Running are aware that even old-fashioned, in-person shopping is different now.
“We are and we’ve talked about washing hands and that kind of stuff, and we’re keeping the place extra clean,” Taylor says. “And when people come in we’re having very open conversations about, ‘Do you need to wash your hands? Do you need sanitizer?’”
Taylor notes in-person customers now often prefer to keep their distance, and he and his employees respect such requests by setting down orders and walking way so customers can pick up items with zero contact.
A positive development, Taylor says, is that people seem to be craving exercise more than ever for health and stress relief, which he hopes will benefit Go! Running in the long run.
“I’ve never seen so many people walking and jogging around my neighborhood,” he says.
Another benefit, Holmstrom says, is the inventiveness of the local business community. He notes how Rock Town Distillery has helped circumvent hand sanitizer shortages by making its own for public consumption.
Taylor points to another positive, the banding together of local businesses through their associations to help each other survive the impact of the pandemic. He says owners compare tactics and practices and share ideas.
“This is one of those times that we’re coming together because we’re all in the same boat,” Taylor says.
Holmstrom and Taylor hope the people of central Arkansas show the same unity with their favorite stores, shops and establishments. They note businesses in the past have stepped forward with community support, sponsorships, donations and other philanthropy and they hope to outlast the pandemic so the altruism can continue.
“From a small business standpoint you remember all those times when small businesses in the area have donated money or time or goods or services to your charity events or your kid’s fundraiser or food drives,” Taylor says. “We’ve all participated in that and now we’re calling in all the favors.”