Local businesses prepare for a holiday season amidst difficulties of COVID-19

Winter is coming and many Isabella County businesses are making preparations for one of the most unusual holiday seasons yet.

Throughout disruptions to business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Isabella County business owners have adapted by taking advantage of the warm weather; however, as the temperatures drop, many are looking ahead to see how they can survive a holiday season in a community still dealing with the issues faced throughout the last year such as an uncharacteristically high unemployment rate, increasing cases of COVID-19, and the cancellation of holiday events that typically bring in business.

Many businesses are located in downtown Mt. Pleasant, offering consumers anything from a hair cut to a cup of coffee. "Shopping small really makes a big difference versus purchasing outward," says Doug Wallace, President and CEO of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce. "For every dollar spent at a small business, 67 cents stays within that local community. So that's a big plus for us to try and encourage people to get out there and shop."
Here’s how two downtown Mt. Pleasant store owners are preparing, and adapting, to the unique challenges businesses are facing this holiday season.

Pleasant City Coffee

In the past, Pleasant City Coffee marked the holiday season with a celebration, offering hot chocolate, live music, and of course—coffee.

“We're not going to have the normal things that we kind of depend on, such as the Christmas celebration downtown, which I believe is canceled,” says Josh Agardy, owner of Pleasant City Coffee. “That's a really hard one, especially with the holidays coming. We already know that there's going to be a dip in sales going forward, and it's going to be like this until the weather breaks and we’re back outside again.”

Pleasant City Coffee has a walk-up window and also offers indoor and outdoor seating options for customers.
Pleasant City Coffee was closed for two months at the beginning of the pandemic, first opening for takeout only until a walk-up window and outdoor seating options were installed.

The coffee shop recently opened its doors again for inside dining and, as an additional safety measure, Agardy installed a plexiglass barrier inside of the coffee shop.

“I want to protect my employees as much as possible,” says Agardy. “Before, they would walk outside to serve people, but now that there is an inside capacity, they serve through an opening in the plexiglass barrier.”

A note is written on the door at Pleasant City Coffee asking patrons to wear a mask.
Before COVID-19, the coffee shop operated with a 25-person capacity within the roughly 1,000 square-foot space. With new safety regulations, Agardy says they can now accommodate six to eight people at most within the space.

Pleasant City Coffee will soon have online ordering, which Agardy says will help to streamline service. Customers will have the option to order ahead, reducing the likelihood of having to wait outside in the cold while their order is made.

“We kind of got caught with our pants down last time,” says Agardy. “We didn't have any way to do anything but close. If we have to lock down again, we now have the walk-up window and heat lamps, so I can put the heat lamps in the walk-up window and run the online service.”

Merchandise is displayed in the new walk-up window at Pleasant City Coffee, located on Broadway Street in Mt. Pleasant.
Agardy is expanding Pleasant City Coffee’s product line into something more dependable and local in anticipation of an increase in the price of coffee as a result of the pandemic.

“People are looking for some normalcy and creature comforts,” says Agardy. “Perhaps that is getting coffee and crepes from us, and then maybe they go on to visit some other places. Keeping everybody going a little bit at a time will help keep everybody going in the long run.”

Trillium Fine Clothing

Helen Chase is the owner of Trillium Fine Clothing, a women’s clothing store located in downtown Mt. Pleasant. Following the shutdown, Trillium reopened in early June and Chase says they are working hard following safety practices.

Helen Chase is the owner of Trillium Fine Clothing. "We have safe practices and those will continue," says Chase. "We have people distance and we come in a half an hour before we open and stay on half an hour after we close to make sure that we have time to clean everything, every single day. We wipe down everything from doorknobs, counters, to dressing rooms— anything that people touch at all."“People can shop and be assured that we do not take their business or safety for granted,” says Chase. “We appreciate their support and continue to do everything we can to make it as safe as possible.”

Staff sanitize dressing rooms immediately after they are used, and Chase says anything that has been tried on is taken to the back room and high-heat steamed before being returned to the floor.

Chase says that there won’t be much difference in their safety practices once winter arrives, they will miss out on some key events that accompany the holiday season, such as Ladies Night Out.

“For retail, it's a very, very important time of the year,” says Chase. “While I can't make a decision for someone else, nor judge what they are able to shop because people have to make decisions that are best for them, if we are comparing things that are close in price, shipping, or any of that, I just hope that they will make the decision to shop local.”

Chase estimates about 90% of her business comes from in-person sales. She says while Trillium does not have an online sales presence, there is an Instagram and Facebook page for the business as well as an email program keeping subscribers up-to-date on what’s new.

“Sometimes people will notice posts we make, and we've mailed some things as a result of that, or had someone visit in-person,” says Chase.

A window display is lit up at night at Trillium Fine Clothing, a women's clothing store that also offers women's accessories such as jewelry and cosmetics.
Chase says that others she networks with who are in retail have utilized Facebook Live as a way to show offerings, and she is considering it as an option for sales.

“There are some people who maybe aren't comfortable shopping in-store,” says Chase. “Whatever helps our customers feel comfortable, if we can do it, we are very happy to accommodate that.”

Shopping local is more important than ever

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, many aspects of life have continued and will continue through the holiday season.

“We've been shopping and we didn't stop shopping,” says Doug Wallace, President and CEO of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve been going to carry-out places and getting food, standing at doors, going to banks; everyone is still doing things.

Some businesses are utilizing heat lamps in their outdoor spaces to extend outdoor dining options.
Wallace says that by shopping local, community members keep much needed dollars in the local economy.

“Shopping small really makes a big difference versus purchasing outward,” says Wallace. “For every dollar spent at a small business, 67 cents stays within that local community. So, that’s a big plus for us to try and encourage people to get out there and shop.”

That, alongside safety, will help the community get through the winter and this holiday season in the same way they have so far – together.

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