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Retailers face new reality as Central NY looks to reopen

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
An artist puts up a window installation at the Wildflowers store in Syracuse.

Update: New York State has released guidelines for industries reopening in phase one. A summary of the guidelines for retail can be found here.  

Retail is one industry which will have some of its restrictions lifted on Friday, as part of the first phase to reopening parts of New York State. But if Central New York is allowed to start phase one, it won’t be business as usual, as retailers face a new reality. 

The Ra-Lin appliance and electronic store in Syracuse has stayed open for essential business, selling major appliances like refrigerators, freezers and washer/dryers. Its gun department is also open. 

“It’s totally different,” said Alan Poushter, the president. “Everyone is keeping social distancing, wearing masks and cleaning the store all the time.”

Poushter said while sales for essentials have been steady, its other departments like jewelry and camera equipment, have been nonexistent. They’ve had to furlough more than half their workers. And he’s unsure how the phase one reopening will affect his business.

“Just like the closing and the opening, we don’t get much notice to give us time to figure out what to do,” Poushter said.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said they don’t have enough guidance from the state yet, either. Phase one allows retailers to do delivery and curbside service, which some are already doing. McMahon said his order to keep malls closed has expired and he’ll let the state’s phase-in guidelines determine when malls can reopen.

Joe Bright, the owner of Dunk & Bright furniture on Syracuse’s south side said their online and phone sales have reached new highs, while their showroom has remained closed. In a statement, Bright said they’ve hired five recent college graduates to work from home on the company’s website, helping customers shop online. The showroom will reopen when state and local officials allow them to do so safely.

For smaller businesses, like the Wildflowers artist market downtown, owner Michael John Heagerty has turned all their attention to online sales. He said they had a large number of sales over the Mother’s Day weekend, because of a special promotion where he delivered products to people’s homes for free anywhere in Onondaga County.

“We drove all over from Cicero to Mattydale to Warners and back,” Heagerty said. “People were very pleased, didn’t have to pay for shipping and service was quick and easy.”

When they are allowed to reopen to customers, they may spread out their products on a lower level below the store, to allow for six feet of physical distancing.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.