Jimmy Santos opened his Scruggs-area restaurant, Los Amigos Bar & Grill, on March 16, just days before Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all restaurants to cease dine-in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We only had one week of OK sales,” Santos recalled.
Fast forward to May, and the restaurant, which opened at Crazy Horse Marina, is still holding its own with food and beverage takeout and delivery.
“You have to have the right attitude,” Santos said. “You have to be positive.”
While the pandemic has taken a toll on businesses that would normally be gearing up for the busy summer season, it’s also sparked creative ways to continue operating safely.
For Santos, that has meant turning to social media to promote his organic, non-GMO Latin dishes by posting photos and videos of his specialty dishes and drinks. In one recent Facebook video, Santos, wearing a face mask, demonstrates how to make “skinny” margaritas. “Facebook is definitely my thing,” he said.
Santos, who owns another restaurant in Roanoke, also recently launched the ChowNow online food ordering app for the lake restaurant.
“ChowNow has been amazing,” he said. “It’s been helping us big time.”
Retail businesses that usually rely on foot traffic have instead had to turn to other means, including using email and social media to connect with their customers.
Haywood’s Jewelers at Westlake Towne Center has been conducting auctions using Facebook Live. “It’s been fun for us, and I think it’s been fun for our customers, too,” said Haywood’s owner Joanna Gruver.
The store’s most recent auction featured 14 different items of jewelry for Mother’s Day. Customers who tuned in were given 24 hours to browse the available items and purchase them at a discounted price.
While she’s grateful to have continued operating by offering curbside service and conducting online and phone transactions, Gruver said that doesn’t compare to in-person interaction.
“The one thing I look forward to the most is seeing my customers face to face,” she said. “I’ve been thankful for the technology in the meantime.”
Like Gruver, Allen Tolley, owner of The Cottage Gate, has missed personal contact with his customers. “Our whole thing was built around customer service,” said Tolley, who is celebrating his 16th year in business.
Although the store, which is also located in Westlake Towne Center, had a Facebook page, Tolley said he didn’t use it much — that is, until the pandemic hit. “We’re like everybody else; we’ve been using social media,” he said.
Tolley also credited the We Shop Local SML Virtually Facebook page that encourages followers to buy gift cards now that can be used later or as gifts. “That was a godsend,” he said.
The Cottage Gate has been offering curbside service and lately has had more customers venturing inside the store. “We’re fortunate enough that we’re starting to see a little bit of traffic,” Tolley said, adding that he appreciated his longtime customers calling and ordering items.
After nearly a month of offering curbside service with only the greenhouse staying open, Capps Home Building Center near Westlake Corner reopened its entire store May 8, albeit with extra precautions, including a separate entrance and exit, one-way aisles, a limit of 20 people allowed in the store at once and reduced store hours to allow ample time for disinfecting.
“We, and probably many other businesses like ours, have found some efficiencies that we’ll continue to provide,” said Bruce Shelton, Capps’ manager.
While recognizing it might take time to return to some semblance of normalcy, Shelton said customers who don’t feel comfortable entering the store can still order their items online or by phone and pick them up in the parking lot.
Moneta Farm and Home Center also has retooled its store and implemented several safety precautions. Curbside pickup, a separate entrance and exit and Plexiglass barriers at checkout stations were just some of the changes. In addition, customers are now asked to wash their hands before entering the store at one of the outside sanitation stations. “Customers, they’re more than happy to do that,” said manager Dave Engel.
Engel credited Moneta Farm’s owners, Stuart and Jimmy Woodford, for their proactive approach in ensuring customers and staff are safe. Even with all the changes, Engel said business has remained steady.
“We’ve done about as best as we could, probably better than most people, I think,” he said. “People are doing all of their honey-dos.”