CLEVELAND — Many small business owners have been forced to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure their doors stay open.
Valerie Mayen, the owner of Cleveland-based Yellowcake Shop Clothing Company has navigated those twists and turns all year long and is now reinventing the traditional shopping experience to keep her customers safe.
Mayen’s been in the clothing design game for more than a decade.
“We specialize in clothing for the everyday woman,” Mayen said. “We also make a lot of accessories, we sell a couple of small home goods. But our biggest mission is to create items that we know will fit a wide range of women.”
But this year’s been unlike any other for Yellowcake Shop.
“A combination of stressful and relaxing. It's stressful in the sense that we are busier than ever,” Mayen said. It's relaxing in the sense that we don't have to travel nearly as much for a lot of the events that we used to travel for because they've all been canceled.”
Mask-making dominated their output during the first few months of the pandemic.
“Then as clients and consumers had what they needed, they were starting to buy more for fun, and for events or for special occasions,” Mayen said.
But as Mayen and her team shifted their focus back to clothes, she said they were missing out on one key element.
“We always prefer meeting with clients,” Mayen said. “And we always prefer having our guests come in to try the products on and that's not something that everyone can or is able to do or should do.
So, she looked beyond the four walls of her shop at the basement level of 78th Street Studios, transforming it into the venue for her socially distant shopping events. She’s held two so far in September and October —the next is on Saturday.
Each event has featured four to six women and minority-owned businesses and Mayen does not charge them a vendor’s fee.
“Because of the situation and because it's a small event, we’re not charging any of the vendors to be here. We want them to keep all the money they make,” Mayen said.
Customers can book appointments to shop with up to five guests who are in their quarantine bubble.
“What we've done is we've made sure that we have no more than 10 people, including our vendors, during each time slot,” Mayen said. “And each time slot is set for about two to three hours and clients are required to wear masks the entire time - there's no exception.”
To cut down on COVID-19 exposure and spread, eating and drinking will not be permitted. Instead, customers will get to take a goodie bag filled with a to-go meal from Pearl Flower Catering and treats from other vendors.
“We have hand sanitizer at every station. Every rack, every exit, every fitting room,” Mayen said. “There's at least 12 feet of space between each rack. So that way, clients can shop comfortably, they don't feel crowded, and then they can check out, and it's easy peasy.”
Mayen is taking Cuyahoga County’s stay-at-home advisory very seriously.
“While we understand that obviously holiday shopping is not essential, we know that some clients do need a mental break,” Mayen said. “I've even called off my assistants for the day, I'll be working the events solo. That's why we gave the vendors the option to opt out. Usually we have anywhere from 20 to 30 people per session, but this time we're only allowing seven to 10, no more.”
But even with a smaller crowd, Mayen said the impact is still sure to be huge.
“Usually when we do small events here in the studio before COVID, we'd have 40 to 50 guests and we'd be able to bring in a decent amount revenue wise, but we're seeing that clients are really wanting to spend money with small businesses and support the backbone of our community,” Mayen said. “And we're seeing double those numbers with half the guests.”
There are still some spots open for Saturday’s socially distant shopping event and Mayen is also considering hosting one on Small Business Saturday. For information on how to sign up, reach out to Yellowcake Shop on Instagram or send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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