Huntsville retailers work to safely reopen after COVID-19 shutdown

single-meta-cal May 1, 2020

Huntsville retailers are breathing a sigh of relief as they begin to re-launch amid COVID-19.

Governor Kay Ivey announced this week a new Safer at Home order, which allows all retail stores to open again with certain restrictions. These include limiting occupancy, enforcing social distancing and complying with sanitation guidelines.

Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment is among those taking precautions to keep tenants, employees and patrons safe.

On Facebook, Lowe Mill said it will require face coverings, limit capacity and encourage visitors to stand 6 feet apart. The facility is also cleaning daily, asking guests to wear gloves and making one-way paths throughout buildings and stairwells.

“We will only open the building as studios are occupied,” said Executive Director Marcia Freeland. “There are no comfort zones and we do not want gatherings on property.”

Supporting Huntsville retailers

The Alabama Retail Association (ARA) in Montgomery said it was a good move on the State’s part to allow all retailers to open.

With only “essential” businesses able to operate previously, too many customers were in too few stores. This made social distancing nearly impossible, said ARA spokeswoman Nancy Dennis.

“Small retailers can more easily limit the number of people in their businesses, which will disperse crowds elsewhere,” she said. “While it won’t be business as usual, allowing small, local retail to open will put Alabamians back to work and keep local economies afloat.”

As required by the State, Dennis said retailers have posted their maximum occupancy and have staff regulating customer flow at entrances and exits. In some cases, stores have set more restrictive limits on the number of guests allowed inside at one time.

To encourage people to stay apart, Dennis said retailers have marked off 6-feet increments in checkout lines and placed barriers in close-contact spots.

“At the height of their busiest shopping seasons, small, local retailers rarely have the number of customers inside their stores that is allowed under the State health order,” she said. “It is more likely that small stores will be welcoming from 1-5 customers at a time into their businesses to shop, all 6 feet apart.”

COVID-19 precautions

Under the Safer at Home order, residents should continue to take an active role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. This includes limiting outings and practicing good hygiene.

The State also encourages individuals, especially those who are more vulnerable, to:

  • Minimize outside travel, especially if sick;
  • Wear face coverings around people from other households;
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer;
  • Refrain from touching one’s face;
  • Sneeze or cough into a tissue, or the inside of one’s elbow; and
  • Disinfect frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.

University Pickers and Redbird Boutique & Gifts owner Tricia Gleason said they’re doing everything possible to keep things clean.

“We’ve got the Germ-X at the doors and throughout the store,” she said. “We’re going to be cleaning the doors and things that people touch at least hourly, probably more than that because we’re kind of clean freaks.”

Alicia Fox said they’ve closed an indoor kids’ play area at her children’s clothing shop, Purple Peanut, to prevent the virus from spreading. They’re also encouraging children who visit to wear face coverings.

“I’m in the process of ordering masks for kids, so we will have those there at the store to hand them out at no charge,” she said.

Larger retailers

Belk plans to reopen its Huntsville locations after temporarily closing them due to COVID-19. The department store has not announced when, but said it is following CDC and state and local health guidelines.

To continue serving customers during shutdown, Belk launched curbside pickup at most locations, including Parkway Place Mall. Customers who place an order on or on the mobile app can also pick up their order there at no charge.

“For more than 130 years, the health and safety of our customers and associates has remained a top priority,” said Lisa Harper, CEO of Belk. “While the shopping experience may look a little different, our commitment to offering quality products at a value customers deserve, providing exceptional service, and helping our local communities remains true to who we are.”

Dillard’s, another long-time Huntsville department store, also remains closed. The retailer said Thursday it will reopen 55 locations on May 5 in 10 states, not including Alabama.

“Management is monitoring all markets for easing of government restrictions and will reopen stores as soon as possible,” the company said.

Retail pivoting

Gleason said her staff will be wearing masks for at least two weeks to reduce the chances of transmitting the virus. They’re also limiting store occupancy to 50 customers and enforcing directional shopping or one-way aisles.

Her businesses closed before Governor Ivey’s initial Stay at Home order and switched to online shopping and curbside pickup. Fortunately, customers have continued to support University Pickers and Redbird, allowing both retail stores to stay open.

“Pivoting is the word we’ve been using in retail,” Gleason said. “Everybody’s just figuring out a different avenue to sell and I think all of those avenues will continue even after all of this and just reach more shoppers in different ways.”

Fox said Purple Peanut employees will wear masks and encourage customers to wear them when they open May 5. Hand sanitizer will be available for guests to use when they arrive at and leave the store.

Purple Peanut has been shipping products, offering curbside pickup and doing home deliveries since closing a few weeks ago. They hope to see a good showing of customers next week, but are being cautious in their approach.

“We will still practice social distancing and we will probably not let more than 10 people in the store at a time, as well,” she said.

Shopping local

Since Lowe Mill shut its doors, Media Coordinator Eliah McCutchen said local businesses have gone out of their way to give back to the community.

Green Pea Press, a printmaking collective at Lowe Mill, partnered with four other area businesses to raise nearly $8,000 for the Women’s Economic Development Council of Huntsville/Madison County with their #QuaranTEAM shirts. McCutchen said Ruchi provided free lunches for healthcare workers and students affected by COVID-19.

Yellowhammer also converted its production line to make hand sanitizer for businesses and organizations in need.

“These businesses give back to the community because they’re part of Huntsville and know how this is affecting all of us,” McCutchen said.

As businesses reopen and we enter our “new normal,” Dennis encourages shoppers to spend money locally.

“When you buy local, your purchase hires people you know, it supports other local businesses, and the taxes on your purchase go to better roads, schools and local services,” she said. “When you buy local, more of your money goes back to your community. That was true before COVID-19, and it is true now.”


Coronavirus Disease Response and Information