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Sunday, July 5 News

Experiences mixed for Virginia antique stores amid pandemic

DANVILLE, Va. (AP) — Judy Adkins Antiques, off Westover Drive in Danville, closed last August as Adkins took care of her husband who was having health problems.

She was anticipating opening in March, but the coronavirus put a major delay in that.

“I figured I would be open maybe in March and April, but I thought it’s no use because people can’t come,” she said.

Moving forward, she is shooting for an August reopening, but all of the cleaning and reorganizing she has to do because the store has been closed down for so long may delay her even more.

Many businesses across the country have been forced to shutter for extended periods of time or drastically alter or reduce services over the last few months in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. Most of the tightest restrictions centered around what were largely referred to as non-essential businesses, and local antique store owners openly admit that their stores fit that definition very well.

“We are the textbook definition of a non-essential business,” said Deborah Sirockman, owner of Virginia Found Goods, a sprawling antique shop in Hurt.

Added Barbara Dunkley, owner of Dusty Treasures Antiques in Axton: “There is not a single thing in an antique shop that you have got to have.”

Antique shops throughout the Dan River Region had varied experiences with mandated closures of stores due to restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Even with some seeing a major boost in online sales, they all took hits in revenue. Since reopening, most have seen sales rise to levels approaching what they saw before the coronavirus, with some even reporting an increase in business.

“It’s been going good. Business has been really good since we’ve opened back up,” Dunkley said. Her store reopened May 17.

From mid-March through mid-May, restrictions were heightened and most non-essential businesses were forced to close doors to the public. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam instituted Phase One on May 15, which allowed non-essential retail stores to begin reopening, but still with many restrictions in place. For instance, anyone inside is supposed to wear a mask, per the governor’s guidelines, and non-essential retail stores should only allow 50% of the building’s rated capacity inside.

Shelly Blackwell, owner of Chestnut Lane Antiques & Interiors in downtown Danville, said online sales — both through the company’s website and online platforms like eBay — spiked by about 50% during the shutdown. Customers from all over the countries ordered things, she said.

“We’ve always had a strong presence online. If we had not had a presence online, it would have been awful,” she said.

Mad Biddy’s, an antique shop in Campbell County a few miles north of Hurt and Altavista, already had listed some items on online platforms, but they increased efforts during the closure, owner Michelle Testerman said.

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“People had no choice but to go online and look for things,” she said.

In addition to people simply being online more, Blackwell said folks spending more time home caused them to take more stock of their home and finally take on projects they had been putting off.

“If you’re sitting there looking at your home all day, you start noticing things you really didn’t notice before,” she said.

During the closure, both Virginia Found Goods and Mad Biddy’s experimented with curbside pickup, where customers would place an order and pick it up outside. Testerman said business was better during three weeks of curbside pickup than it has been since she reopened her doors several weeks ago, something she attributed to people still feeling cooped at home during that time.

“It was almost like having a captive audience,” she said.

At Virginia Found Goods, business has been better in the three weekends since operators reopened their doors than it was before the coronavirus. Normally, Sirockman said, Thursdays and Fridays are hit and miss, while Saturdays are consistently busy.

“Since we reopened again, we’ve been really busy every day,” she said.

Katie Perdieu, of Lynchburg, brought her young daughter to Virginia Found Goods to find and purchase something she had seen before the coronavirus hit. She said she goes to stores like that because she enjoys antiques.

“I just think it’s cool seeing all the old items,” she said.

The owner of Lou’s Antique Mall, a three-story antique shop in the middle of downtown Danville, declined to comment for this story.

Dan River Antiques, another antique shop in downtown Danville, closed down in March and didn’t do any online sales or promotions during the shutdown. Since reopening earlier this month, owner William Gentry said business has been fair.

“Maybe they’re getting tired of staying in,” he said.

Store owners said there hasn’t been any hesitation from customers since they reopened, even though touching many items while perusing an antique store is expected.

Since she reopened, Dunkley hasn’t instituted any extra or thorough cleaning of the items in her store. Instead, she focuses on keeping high-touch areas clean, and making sure everyone uses hand sanitizer before they enter and begin touching things.

Even once restrictions are gone, the store owners who utilized online tactics say they will continue to focus on them even more.

“If nothing else, I’ve had people ask me please keep posting online, we love looking at it,” Testerman said. “It’s probably something that I will lean even heavier on in the future.”

Added Sirockman: “We are going to keep doing (online sales). It’s really a good way to get people in.”