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Why these SF retailers won’t reopen yet, despite loosening restrictions

Gamescape employees heading out to deliver orders | Photo: Gamescape Facebook
By Britta Shoot - Published on June 18, 2020.

On Monday, San Francisco retailers were permitted to allow indoor shopping under the city’s current phase of reopening. But as small business owners weigh the benefits and drawbacks of reopening, some are choosing to keep their shops shuttered.

“It’d be really nice if we could open end of this week or the beginning of next,” says Bonnie Stuppin, the co-owner of Alexander Book Company in SoMa. She’s concerned about the health and safety of her staff, some of whom take public transit to work. “I am desperate to get the doors open, but I am not going to do this too quickly.”

Since the shutdown, Alexander Book Company has introduced online ordering and curbside pickup. Stuppin says she still needs to make accommodations inside her three-story shop, such as hanging barriers to ensure social distancing. She still hasn’t determined where to put the registers, or whether her staff will feel comfortable accepting cash payments.

Tom Hamilton, owner of Gamescape, is also still re-configuring the physical space in his Divisadero storefront. He’s targeting a reopening date of July 1.

Before the pandemic, he said, “Our focus was on creating communal space to gather and play games.” In the past three months, his attention has turned to setting up and maintaining inventory in his new online shop.

Gamescape also started offering curbside pickup and local delivery. Hamilton said these changes will become permanent aspects of Gamescape’s business model going forward. That means he has to train his employees on their new roles in order fulfillment and shipping.

In the store, he's removed display shelving to create more space for increased inventory — puzzles have been a pandemic best-seller — as well as more room for customers to social distance while browsing.

Sean Quigley, founder of Mission curiosity shop Paxton Gate, echoes many of the sentiments expressed by other independent retailers. Among other reasons for remaining closed, he told Hoodline that his staff is apprehensive about working with the public.

Much like the staff at Gamescape, Quigley said Paxton Gate employees are busy with behind-the-scenes inventory management that never seemed to get done when the store was open. He has not set an opening date, and still isn’t sure how to accommodate customers in person.

“We’ve considered shopping by appointment as an option for the next step beyond curbside,” Quigley said. “This would get people into the space, allow for more than one shopper at a time as is the case with curbside, but still allow a lot of control on our part.”

Gamescape’s Hamilton sees this as an opportunity to consider what customers will want in the future. “I don’t believe people are rushing out to shop,” he said. “This is a time to sit back and understand what customers want.”

Stuppin said that because so many large companies in SoMa are allowing employees to work from home, it’s hard to predict what walk-in customers will want when they start returning to Alexander Book Company.

She said the lack of foot traffic in her area makes it feel like a “zombie apocalypse,” and adds there’s no reason to rush reopening when only a few loyal customers are likely to stop by unannounced.

“Working remotely is great, but it doesn’t bode well for retail,” she said.

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