Soft Opening for Some Small Businesses Easier Said Than Done

NBCUniversal, Inc.

For the first time in nearly two months the doors to several small shops along the 101 in Encinitas opened their doors Friday. Too bad customers weren’t allowed to walk through them.

The “soft opening” for most retail stores closed during the COVID-19 shutdown was bittersweet for retailers who depend on impulse purchases from customers who wander inside their stores.

“It’s difficult to do because what we offer is a customer experience, and the customer experience includes people walking inside the store and people being able to appreciate and touch the different items that we offer,” said Luisa Jackson, who owns Earth’s Elements. “Having the curbside pick-up is gonna be very difficult for customers to do that because how are they gonna know what we have inside?”

Jackson said she’s hoping shoppers hungry for Mother’s Day gifts will check the Earth’s Elements website to place orders that they can pick up outside the shop.

Across the street, the closed sign was hanging on the door of Queen Eileen’s, a store packed with more than 5,000 items from jewelry, to souvenirs and everything in between. Eileen Burke has owned the store for decades and told NBC 7 curbside pick-up “isn’t gonna work for us.”

Burke, who also owns a handful of resort wear stores called Coco Rose, said people want to try things on before they buy.

“I’m just opting to wait until it’s a more buyer-friendly environment,” she said, adding that it would be unfair to bring employees now collecting unemployment checks back to a store that could be devoid of customers.

“It’s difficult to be a business owner in this day and age,” Burke told NBC 7.

Many of the items Burke sells in Coco Rose and Queen Eileen are made in exotic places like Bali and Thailand. Burke reached out to some of her overseas seamstresses for face masks that she sold to people walking through her neighborhood. The masks sell for $5 apiece, and the money is donated back to the people who made them.

Burke sold over a thousand masks without ever leaving her neighborhood, which gave her an idea to bring some of her colorful mu-mus, calftans and jewelry items home to her front deck. 

This week Burke hosted what she called “Mu-mu Monday” outside her home near Moonlight Beach, and invited followers on Facebook to come shopping. 

It was a hit, not just with regular customers, but also with her neighbors. 

“The neighbors are coming up on the deck and saying can I buy this for my mom? So since then I’ve been just kind of like sitting on my deck selling mu-mus to passers-by. It’s not much, but It’s something," she said.

Burke’s front yard is big enough to accommodate social distancing, and customers who want to try things on before they buy them are welcome to.

Queen Eileen and Coco Rose will open when Burke feels the time is right.  “I mean this whole curbside thing just doesn’t work for us.”

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