For many small businesses, the coronavirus has meant turning the lights off and waiting for it to be safe for crowds to return. However, for a few businesses, the stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures have allowed customers to frequent their stores in even greater capacity than normal.
With large portions of the population staying at home and having more free time, Manhattan residents have focused on their hobbies and eating more meals at home. As a result, grocery stores and outdoor supply shops have seen increases in customers.
For The Pathfinder, a surge in residents trying to get outside has ensured the store’s bike specialists have stayed busy.
“We’ve seen a pretty incredible increase during this pandemic,” assistant manager Ben Stark-Sachs said. “It’s a difficult time in the world that we’d never wish to see, but it’s had some unpredictable consequences all over, which for us has meant a pretty significant increase in sales in the bike side of our store.”
The Pathfinder, 304 Poyntz Ave., doubles as an outdoor supply shop and a bike shop. Since the coronavirus began affecting the Manhattan area, the shop has seen bike repairs double from last year, which was a record year at the time.
At the same time, bike sales have increased to three to four times their normal rate, according to Stark-Sachs. Helmet and other cycling accessory sales also have increased.
“People during this time, where all these recreation outlets are closed, like sports events, ball sports, gyms are closed, and people are looking for another activity they can do and stay fit,” Stark-Sachs said. “Cycling provides a great opportunity for that.”
The surge in bike sales has allowed the store to remain financially level, as sales of other outdoor supplies have slowed.
Similarly, grocery stores like the Asian Market, 2304 Stagg Hill Road, also saw an uptick in customers as people stocked up on supplies at the beginning of the pandemic.
“When the first COVID case hit Kansas, we had a dramatic increase in customers,” said Fanny Fang, a partner at the Asian Market. “They flocked in to buy rice. That is a staple for so many cuisines. What would typically last us three to four months, we sold in two weeks.”
The only reason the market’s rice supply lasted that long was due to a policy that limited the amount of rice a customer could purchase. Despite the control measures, the Asian Market’s sales increased by around 20% in the first few weeks following the pandemic measures, according to Fang.
Like The Pathfinder, the Asian Market’s sales have helped the store to stay level during the pandemic. Despite having more sales than usual, the market is also dealing with higher prices when trying to restock.
“The difficulty now is, these are concerns I had in the beginning, is now we’re seeing prices increase,” Fang said. “Especially my business, which is an international grocery store, we’re starting to see it’s harder to get hands on products. ... So yes, sales have gone up, but so have costs.”
The increase in patrons has forced both stores to confront how to safely operate a business while also trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
For The Pathfinder, maintaining social distancing meant restricting operations to curbside service. Bike repairs were confined to the store’s back porch, with staff wearing masks full time and putting on a new pair of gloves with each customer interaction.
Still, there were times where social distancing proved especially difficult no matter the measures taken.
“That hasn’t always been easy, especially when trying to make sure the bike is fitted correctly,” Stark-Sachs said. “We have to have them ride it, drop it off and we’ll change the seat heights. All the stepping forward and stepping back, trying to keep distance the whole time.”
As of May 23, The Pathfinder began allowing customers back into the store. Only a limited number of customers are allowed inside the store at one time and are encouraged to limit their contact with merchandise. The Pathfinder also has installed plexiglass barriers in front of its registers.
The Asian Market began taking similar measures as soon as the pandemic started. Due to the nature of the store, completely restricting access to the store was unfeasible.
As a result, the market required all customers, as well as employees, to wear face masks before entering the store. Everyone must also put on hand sanitizer.
The store briefly was open only for delivery and pick-up after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-April.
The store also installed barriers at each of its registers. As one more measure, it also began employing a security guard.
“We hired a security guard to monitor crowd control,” Fang said. “Us as an outward facing Asian business, in the beginning of COVID, and there’s still a lot of racism, but in the beginning there was a lot of misinformation going around. So we hired a guard for our protection but also to do crowd control, so we could limit the people in the store.”
Despite the costs of the added measures, the increase in customers at both locations has been an overall benefit since the pandemic began. For The Pathfinder, the increase in bike sales has allowed the store to remain steady during turbulent times.
“Our business is more or less steady, it’s just the distribution that has changed,” Stark-Sachs said. “There’s always an ebb and flow. During this crazy time, it’s shaken out that bikes picked up a pretty wild amount.”
In the Asian Market’s case, the increase in sales has allowed the store to pay its good fortune forward.
“My parents owned a restaurant, so I feel for our brothers and sisters in the restaurant industry,” Fang said. “Because our business has done relatively well with COVID, we’ve purchased $5 gift cards from restaurants to give to our customers for free as a thank you for shopping with us and to support local restaurants.”