Ann Arbor businesses begin to see slow in sales due to lack of shoppers

Nickels Arcade in downtown Ann Arbor. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – It’s only been days since Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in Michigan and already business has slowed for several local shops.

For fears of the safety of its staff, Literati Bookstore shut its doors “indefinitely” on Friday, though its website is still fulfilling orders.

Foot traffic has decreased and the few shoppers that are out are vigilant.

“For the most part people who are coming in are being extremely cautious,” said manager of Roeda Studio on Main St. Linda Kuehnel. “They’re fully aware that they’re out in public. Some are even bringing their own pens.”

Kuehnel said that her store has already taken action to reduce risk to staff, like reducing store hours and the number of employees.

“We have as few staff here at the same time as possible,” she said. “If anyone feels uncomfortable, they don’t have to come in to work.”

Photo: Roeda Studio

With locations in other cities, Roeda Studio management have been holding daily conference calls to monitor the situation. When asked if the store will close its doors, Kuehnel said the real test will be this weekend.

“We’ll wait to see what business is like over the weekend,” said Kuehnel. “If customers don’t come on Saturday and Sunday, then they won’t come out (at all).”

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Over on State St. across from University of Michigan’s campus, owner of Bivouac, Ed Davidson, reported a decrease in shoppers.

“I’m speaking on behalf of all the State Street business owners and restaurateurs when I say business is terrible," Davidson told A4 on Friday. “Yesterday my sales were way down, they’re down today. It’s not good for the campus merchants."

Davidson employs several U-M students, and he reported that roughly 20% of his staff has gone home.

Like many businesses, Davidson is reassuring his customers that he is keeping his store as clean as possible.

“We have a letter that we put out online that talks about what we’re doing," he said. “We’re cleaning door posts, railings and counters frequently. We’re making sure our staff washes their hands all the time. We’ve asked the staff to keep their social distance. There are still customers coming in, but it’s kind of tough to pay the rent if we have no income.”

Bivouac at 336 S. State St. in downtown Ann Arbor. (Bivouac)

Another concern for Davidson are his travel items. The shop sells adapters, money belts, travel packs, accessories and quick-dry clothing, which can be found on Bivouac’s website.

“We think that’s the end of that," he said. “That’s going to be a huge impact for me. The hope on our part is maybe students will go out west in isolation and be in the wilderness, which is probably very safe and better than any city they could go to.”

When asked if he will close his doors if more and more people self-quarantine and life comes to a standstill, he responded: “I will be led by my customers. They’ll make the decision for me. My feeling is if they’re not really quarantining in the next week, that will tell me that they’re not planning on it.”

At MDen down the street, owner Scott Hirth also reported a slow in sales, but was optimistic in his outlook.

“Michigan fans are a resilient bunch and they’re still coming in the shop," he said. MDen also has an online store, and is now offering free shipping on all purchases.

When asked about how the cancellation of graduation will impact business, Hirth said: “It’s a significant, busy time of the year for us. What that actually means I can’t sit here and tell you I know that today.”

But some stores are reporting a steady stream of customers during these unusual times: Toy stores.

With the statewide cancellation of all K-12 schools, parents have begun to stock up on toys and games for their children who will be home for three weeks.

While foot traffic has slowed, co-owner of Mudpuddles in Kerrytown Market & Shops, Jan Benzinger, said she is only slightly behind in sales compared to this week last year.

Jan Benzinger poses for a photo in her shop on May 3, 2018. She opened Mudpuddles 26 years ago. (Meredith Bruckner)

“My biggest issue is how long it’s taking to get things," said Benzinger. “I ordered some things at the end of January and they’re still not here. A lot of toys come from overseas. Companies are telling me: ‘You’re not going to get it until the end of April.’”

Benzinger said she is steam cleaning and sanitizing her store around the clock. She told A4 that the owner of Kerrytown Market & Shops, Andrew O’Neal, has been telling business owners that the shopping center will remain open and to keep things clean.

“We all seem to be doing well and we’re just doing what we’re told to do," she said. "Keep things clean and wash our hands. We’re planning on staying open unless there’s a real reason not to be.”

Meanwhile a staff member at Learning Express Toys in Westgate Shopping Center on Ann Arbor’s west side reported a busy day on Friday. The store is offering special deals on art supplies and sticker books and is selling all of its games for 25% off.