Norfolk Small Business Reopens With Cautious Optimism
Joan Wilkening owns and runs Mrs. Pinkadot, a shabby-chic home décor shop in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood. WHRO reported in March that closing was not exactly easy for her. She was concerned then about keeping the store afloat.
Wilkening sells her own products, plus products from about thirty vendors who rent space in the shop. She says that the vendors are not considered employees, so she didn't apply for state help on that front. And she said business owners she knows went through a lot of red tape to try to get state help without even receiving replies to their applications.
Throughout the spring, Wilkening put her energy into online sales through Facebook. She streamed the biggest sales on Saturday nights, mainly with the help of vendors Melissa Jones and Erin DuPrey. Sometimes the sales ran longer than three hours. She brought in money for the business, the vendors and consigners.
She also connected with new customers.
“We have all these people who have discovered us that didn't even know existed,” she said. “They're shopping online, and they can't wait to come in the store.” She said that’s the silver lining of the shutdown.
The difficulty of reopening is knowing if it’s the right thing to do. “I have to open safely for myself, for my team, for our customers, for the community, because I do care about everybody. And I don't think it's something that we can take lightly.”
Wilkening is figuring out where she’ll place hand sanitizer, and how customers will enter and exit to avoid contact. Only 10 at a time will be allowed in, and masks will be required. If customers show up without a mask, she will sell them one at-cost.
She hopes to avoid confrontations with customers about wearing a mask.
“I don't want to have it be political, I don't want it to be about everybody's opinion,” she said. “This is my business. And this is how I'm going to run it.”
One other issue is about merchandise. The online sales were so successful, Wilkening needed to restock a few times throughout the shutdown. Many of the products she and her vendors provide are unique — refurbished furniture, antique décor, art.
So far, they’ve continued to bring goods in, but because of the pandemic, Wilkening has not been able to go “picking” for distinctive items.
“I usually you know, hit the flea markets and such, I go to estate sales and auctions, and I haven't been doing that, obviously, for the past couple months,” she said.
She often visits Pennsylvania on these excursions, but aside from that state’s restrictions, she’s not sure when she’ll feel comfortable venturing out.
Back in pre-pandemic times, Wilkening would be preparing for Christmas about now. But she’s hesitant about that, too.
“I’m concerned about what’s going to happen in the fall,” she said about people relax social distancing. “Everything is a waiting game.”
Mrs. Pinkadot opens to customers on Saturday, June 6.