Mason retailers ready for business, again

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Teresa Wren spent her days of quarantine inside her business, Kean’s, wondering if they were going to be able to open their doors ever again. Kean’s has been a part of Mason’s downtown landscape since 1928 and was under risk of closing for good.  

For many of the family-owned businesses in Mason, the pandemic only shut their doors temporarily, not permanently, thanks to the support of the Mason community. Many businesses had to reshape the structure of their business model to accommodate customers while their doors were closed as well.

Wren said that the support from the local community is the main reason why Kean’s doors remain open.

“The Mason community has been extremely supportive over the past two months,” said Wren.  “Dart Bank applied for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan and we received $5,000. The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) in Mason also gave out $35 gift cards to members of the Mason community for the small businesses in downtown Mason,”

The DDA was a lifeline for many small businesses in Mason as they had to keep their doors closed according to many business owners. Debbie Dancer, the owner of Maple Street Mall in Mason, said she believes that the DDA saved lots of businesses in Mason that were under threat of closing.

“Our DDA sponsored a gift certificate program” said Dancer. “They got 18 or so small businesses in town to provide a logo and a link to purchase the gift certificate. People could send $25 and the DDA kicked in another $10 so it was a $35 gift card to any of the local businesses involved. They sold over 1,000 of those gift certificates, they sold out in six hours and plan on doing it again soon,”

The pandemic and the forced shutdown of the businesses in Mason also forced many of the businesses to reshape how they operate.

Kean’s, for example, decided to revamp its online presence and provide online orders and curbside pickup. Wren said that making this adaptation was crucial to keeping Kean’s alive. The store received lots of orders for Easter and Mother’s Day. A staff of just Wren and her daughter worked nonstop to complete online orders.

“We lost over 44% of our business because of the shutdown,” said Wren. “We have recovered slightly because of online orders for Easter and Mother’s Day, but we still lost a lot of revenue over the past two months. We downsized the staff. It will be permanent going forward because of the money that was lost,”

Neil Kane, an economics professor at Michigan State with expertise in small business economics, said he believes that changes like this will happen nationwide for small businesses.

“I think the outcome of the pandemic and the Stay At Home order is that there are going to be winners and losers,” said Kane. “I think there are going to be massive cultural and structural changes to the workplace, kind of a reset.

“If you think about what I have been talking about, like more workers working from home, it is not that the economy is going to be smaller as a result, but rather it is going to shift to a different part of the economy. The money is redistributed to other businesses.” Said Kane.

Businesses like Kean’s and Maple Street Mall are just a couple examples of the structural changes that can happen to small businesses. Kane said there is most likely going to be widespread changes to the workplace in general and places like restaurants, movie theaters and medical offices will all undergo major changes and possibly suffer as a result.

In a small town like Mason, an entire shift of the local economy is highly unlikely said Kane and is most likely going to experience a small economic boom in the future.

“I think is that we are going to get a little bit of a bounce because there is a lot of pent up demand,” said Kane. “I haven’t bought gasoline since March, and I normally spend $50 a week on gas. There is a lot of that kind of stuff,”

Dancer is preparing the Maple Street Mall for any possible change that can happen so that her business is prepared to serve the customer. The Maple Street Mall reopened on June 1, the first retail store to reopen in Mason, and has strict social distancing measures.

“We have guides on the floor for where people can stand, we require everyone to wear a mask when they enter the store, and we have plexiglass on the counter to separate workers and customers,” said Dancer.

Kean’s is following suit in terms of social distancing protocols, as well as changing other parts of the business to help reduce the number of customers in the story.

“As of right now, we do not allow more than 15 to 20 people in the store at once,” said Wren. “We have done a lot of online and curbside orders, and I think we are going to keep doing a lot of those going forward,”

Despite the initial threats to the downtown retail stores of Mason, Kean’s and the Maple Street Mall are leading the way in terms of reopening in Mason, and hope to set a trend for the other small businesses in the city.

“I hope that people continue to follow social distancing rules,” said Dancer. “We want to keep our doors open for our customers, so we hope that people are responsible in the near future. We did one-fifth of our normal business in May and much less than that in April. We hope to make up that difference eventually, but we need to keep our doors open.”

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