MAHOPAC, N.Y. As we enter the third month of quarantine in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses throughout Mahopac and Carmel continue to adapt and evolve in an effort to stay afloat.
Some have reinvented themselves, producing new products and services; others have found new ways of conducting business; and still others have ratcheted up their safety precautions and protocols.
For Mark and Patti Liff, owners of Yellow Shed Antiques, an iconic Mahopac store on Route 6, the pandemic has expedited a change they’d been considering for a while: Shutting down their storefront and dealing with customers personally and online.
“We’ve been doing this for 49 years, but retail has slowed in the last 10 years,” Mark Liff said. “We are getting a lot more house calls and we go to homes and buy whatever is still marketable in today’s market. We spend a lot of time doing that.”
He said 90 percent of their business now involves selling in other venues, so the state-imposed shutdown (antiques aren’t considered an essential business) seemed like a good time to make the change.
“We are actually busier than when we were in the store,” he said. “There’s efficiency of time and being selective of what we sell. This is a great opportunity to do it and lower our overhead. We are still out there actively buying. It’s all about phone calls from ads or word of mouth. I have lists of customers who look for certain items, and we contact them [if we find them]. We also do stuff on eBay. We are spending less time in the store, but doing better by conserving time and concentrating on what works.
“It’s not disappointing because we saw it was headed this way,” he added. “It’s kind of a relief really. It’s one of the biggest changes in my life, but I was really ready for it.”
Some businesses are now creating new products to help them get along until the shutdown is lifted.
Mahopac Glass, whose primary business had been window repair and replacement (they do all the work for Northern Westchester-Putnam BOCES, which includes 15 school districts) is now making sneeze guards and partitions.
“I laid off five employees within the first two weeks,” said owner Drew Gagnon. “The phone is not ringing. I’m all by myself. This idea came along out of necessity. It’s always been a small part of our business, but not nearly as big as it is now.”
Because just about every retail store has put up partitions to protect their employees, there is a national shortage of plexiglass and Gagnon said prices have doubled. Not wanting to pass those costs on to his clients, he found another way to create partitions without using plexiglass.
“I came up with a system using mylar, which is clear, using framing we use for store windows,” he said. “This is a real live-and-learn time.”
Gagnon said his goal is to get his furloughed staff back to work as soon as possible.
“Some have been with me for about 20 years and I can’t say enough good things about them,” he said. “I want them back.”
Laura's Boutique & Bridal is another business that has changed its product offerings. Normally a designer and manufacturer of dresses for formal affairs such as proms and weddings, owner Laura Rudovic had to rethink her business model now that those types of events have practically disappeared. She now produces face masks, but she worries that might not be enough to keep her business alive. She had opened a second store in Mamaroneck last fall, but closed that in March. A plan to open a second Carmel location has been scuttled. Her original store is no longer open for foot traffic, but customers can shop virtually online and she will provide curbside pickup for them.
“That went all right, but not great,” she said. “But I saw all these reports about how there are not enough masks and I thought I had to do something where I can make some money and keep the business going.”
She now produces high-quality three-layer masks, as well as some with built-in filtration.
The washable, reusable masks are produced by the same company that makes her dresses and can also be customized with business logos and other designs, including rhinestones.
“I’ve made some for local businesses with a logo on it,” she said, “and for Carmel and Mahopac high schools with their mascots. Just about anything you want. I want them to be as nice as my dresses. It’s all about quality.”
A portion of the money Rudovic makes from the masks will be used to purchase medical masks and face shields, which she will donate to Putnam Hospital Center and Northern Westchester Hospital.
But Rudovic said she won’t reopen the store for regular business until the danger has completely passed.
“I’ve worked really hard and I can’t even go over there. It’s really sad,” she said, her voice choking with emotion. “I am not going to jeopardize people’s health. It is what it is.”
Sclafani Fuel, which sells fuel oil and does furnace and air-conditioner repairs is, of course, an essential business. But with its techs having to enter people’s homes during the shutdown, they’ve prepared.
“We handle crises routinely, and we are used to handling distraught customers,” said Maureen Sclafani. “We normally issue gloves and masks when we work on a furnace—anything with dust or fumes—but now they are required to wear it everywhere we go. This is a serious thing. I think people have handled it. Our customers have been very kind.”
If emergency repairs are needed, customers are instructed to shelter in a portion of the home away from the work and disinfect before the tech arrives.
“We haven’t left anyone without heat, of which I’m very proud,” Sclafani said.
Sclafani said the demand for some of her business’s services is down during the pandemic.
“They don’t want us in their house, so they are putting off things like routine maintenance and you can’t blame them,” she said.
So, it’s mostly emergency work now, with technicians showering between every call. Additionally, the company has stopped charging late fees on past-due bills.
“Some people are unemployed,” she said. “We want to make sure our customers are happy and healthy. Next, we will be worried about air conditioning and making sure filters are changed, especially for those with distressed breathing. We are ready, and we will take care of it.”
For John Barile, owner of Sam’s Kitchen and Bath, the pandemic has impacted him in a big way. He closed down the store completely until recently, and now they’re open by appointment only.
“I’ve been in retail my whole life, and this is the first time I’ve been home for five straight weeks since I was 18,” he said. “We were closed all of April. The guys just weren’t comfortable coming in. I came back last Monday by myself, but the guys are a little wary. We are open for limited hours, so we can clean everything in the store. We have our gloves and masks. It’s the new way of the world.”
Barile said there could be a light at the end of the tunnel—they are beginning to book jobs again.
“I have gone out and done some estimates,” he said. “We go to areas of the house where no one is, like an upstairs bathroom or the basement. We don’t cross paths that much.”
Barile said he has faith that things will turn around sooner than later.
“As a businessperson, you have to be optimistic or you shouldn’t be in business,” he said. “I expect it to go back to normal, but don’t know how long that’s going to take.”
Amanda Morrison of Sterling Cellars, a liquor store in Mahopac Village Center, said there’s been a big demand for alcohol during the pandemic, so her business has been doing just fine. They’re just being cautious to follow federal guidelines to keep things safe for customers after they were declared an essential business.
“We’ve been more diligent about wiping things down to sanitize,” she said.
The store has seen a boom in online sales and provides curbside pickup and free delivery three days a week for orders over $100.
“Business has been pretty steady—all the bars are closed, people are making their own martinis,” Morrison said. “Our vendors tell me that other [liquor stores] have been pretty steady, too.”
Morrison said when the crisis first hit, she was concerned because no one knew what to expect. That’s since changed.
“No one knew what was going on,” she said. “But then they made us ‘essential’ and that made us really happy.”
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