Business

Cedar Rapids consignment shops reopen with some changes after coronavirus shutdown

April Smith wipes down shopping carts at Goodwill of the Heartland on Blairs Ferry Road in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Ju
April Smith wipes down shopping carts at Goodwill of the Heartland on Blairs Ferry Road in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. The store, which is taking extra precautions to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, has seen a large increase in donations since they reopened. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Like many other retailers, local consignment stores and resale shops are navigating the process of reopening their doors to customers. But they also have to consider what it means to accept items for resale, on which their very business relies, in this new normal.

Goodwill, a not-for=profit retailer, was expecting a pent-up flow of donations when it reopened a few weeks ago. “We know that people have been using their extra time at home to do lots or cleaning and organizing and they have donations packed and waiting for us,” said Mindy Kayser, vice president of marketing for Goodwill of the Heartland. The organization’s initial approach was to reopen a few days a week to just accept donations and allow employees to work through the surge. Kayser said Goodwill began the process of reopening its 11 locations — three Cedar Rapids stores, as well as stores in Marion, Iowa City, Coralville, Washington, Muscatine, Bettendorf, Davenport, and Burlington — for donations starting May 11. Shortly after, customers could shop at the stores.

“It’s an upbeat atmosphere in the stores right now,” Kayser said. “People are just happy to be back and they’ve talked about how they’ve missed us.”

She said many customers are regulars, shopping at the stores several times a week.

“For a lot of people that’s their social outlet. So we’re happy to be back and happy to have our customers back. Our employees have a special relationship with a lot of our regular customers and they are calling each other by name. It’s really positive,” Kayser said.

“Even with their masks on, we can see that they are smiling,” agreed Julie Lane, manager of Treasures Quality Resale Shoppe in Cedar Rapids. “They are telling us they are so happy we are open.”

Lane said some people are just coming in to browse but sales have been excellent thus far, even without running the store’s typical promotions.

Treasures closed March 17 and reopened on May 26, accepting donations a week later.

“We took our time to decide what was good and healthy and best for the public,” Lane said.

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Shopping experience sanitized and socially distanced

As with other shops, Treasures is limiting the number of customers in the building at once, she said.

“We just didn’t want a bunch of customers bumping into each other, and we are recommending that they wear masks while shopping,” Lane said. “And there’s a lot of sanitizing going on.”

Natalie Loesch, owner of Style Encore in Cedar Rapids, said it feels good to be interacting with the public again. “My staff was more than eager to come back to work,” she said.

Style Encore, which sells women’s fashions, handbags, shoes and accessories, closed its doors to shoppers on March 19 and reopened May 8.

“As always, shoppers can expect a friendly environment, but we have increased our cleaning,” Loesch said of changes to the shopping experience. “Regularly touched surfaces are getting sanitized, as well as dressing rooms and restrooms, after every customer.”

The store also is using directional arrows to help customers navigate the aisles and racks of clothing.

Kayser said shoppers also will notice changes at Goodwill stores. All locations are requiring face masks for employees and shoppers, has installed Plexiglas guards at cash registers, and has greeters at the door sanitizing carts and monitoring the number of people in the store at any one time. Dressing rooms are also being cleaned throughout the day.

“We’ve had customers thanking us for our safety guidelines and everything we’re doing to protect our employees, shoppers, and donors,” Kayser said.

Loesch said business has been great so far since reopening at Style Encore.

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“The support has been truly incredible, not only with in-store purchases but also with our online sales,” she said. “We have heard nothing but positive feedback. Customers love that we are taking the precautions, but they have also mentioned how fun the store feels.”

Sales have been steady at Goodwill, Kayser said.

“We were greatly impacted being closed for such an extended period of time, so year-to-date obviously our store sales are way down as compared to, you know, last year,” she said. “But I think people were ready to get back to shopping and a lot of people rely on us, especially those on fixed incomes or those facing financial crisis. I think more people now may be looking to stretch their household resources and may turn to discount retailers and resale shops.”

Changes to taking donations

Goodwill has implemented a new no-contact donation process.

“What we are asking people to do is do a little bit of sorting of their goods prior to dropping them off,” said Kayser, noting that donors are asked to presort their donations by clothing and non-clothing items in advance and to deposit them directly into the large boxes staged in the donation lanes outside the stores. Goodwill will quarantine all donations for a period of time before processing them for the sales floor.

Treasures also has made temporary changes to donation intake. Lane said the store is limiting the number of donations being accepted while relying on volunteers to process things.

“We weren’t able to handle a large amount of donations at once right now,” she said. “And I think everyone in the Cedar Rapids community has been decluttering.”

Currently donors are able to bring in two boxes or large items per person, and donations are only being accepted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We will go a week by week with that to see how things are moving,” Lane said.

While it was tough for these local retailers to be closed to the public for shopping and making donations or bringing in items for consignment, Lane feels her business was able to use the time wisely.

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“We were doing a lot more organizing, rearranging, cleaning, clearing and stuff like that,” she said. “But I think it also made us think deeper on how can we be connected to the community even if our doors aren’t open.”

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