Twenty-one shops, restaurants and fitness studios have joined forces to remind Jacksonites and the rest of the world that even during the shutdown they are still serving their customers, albeit in different ways than before the pandemic.
“We are all working to sell our merchandise in the ‘new normal,’ ” said Dana Sanders Souther, owner of the clothing store Terra.
ShopStrongJH is the name of a new group website and one of the hashtags Terra and other businesses are using on Facebook and Instagram posts.
“The idea of #shopstrongjh is to say, ‘We’re still here,’ ” said Lisa Roarke, a web developer who created the site gratis.
Roarke worked for Made and Mountain Dandy for a number of years. Before the COVID-19 shutdown she’d seen retail ups and downs, she said, but “nothing like this.”
Businesses are doing all they can to stay afloat during the shutdown, including applying for the new Payment Protection Plan loans created in Congress’ rescue package (see story on page 6C). Marketing efforts like #shopstrongjh are another tactic.
The participating businesses intend ShopStrongJH.com to spotlight what they bring to Jackson as a collective. Most are in the Town Square area.
“We are all members of this community, and we are in this together,” Souther said. “Having one store in town does not make a fun shopping experience. If we’re not all there the charm of downtown is gone.”
Though ShopStrongJH.com is not an e-commerce site, visitors will see phone numbers, brief descriptions of current services and Instagram handles so they can click through and learn more and start shopping.
On the website the clothing and retail shops are grouped into a “This and That,” page. Other pages are for “Food and Drink” and “Health and Wellness.”
“We kept it strictly to small and locally operated businesses,” Roarke said. “It’s not supposed to be the Yellow Pages.”
Souther sees it as a great cross-promotional tool.
“We are all obviously sharing clients,” she said. “I do think someone who’s checking it out to order something from The Phoenix and the Dragon might cruise around and say, ‘Wow, this is what so and so is doing.’ ”
Though #Shopstrongjh is new, it’s gaining traction, according to Jennifer Nelson-Hawks, co-owner of another participating business, Simply Health, a supplements and holistic wellness business in Smith’s Plaza. She can attribute some fresh customer interest to the promotion.
“We have had a couple of people register for our online shopping,” she said. “I don’t recognize the names from [people] purchasing supplements on our shelves.”
During the pandemic, Simply Health is offering curbside pickup for store purchases. One-on-one treatments have been suspended, but customers can still receive certain hands-free treatments on-site as well as remote scans.
“We joined [ShopStrongJH] because we are a small business and we want to be part of the community and helping out our community,” Nelson-Hawks said. “We are grateful to be one of the essential places that is actually open.”
Souther said at least one potential new customer found her through ShopStrongJH.com. The woman is out of state, so Souther shipped her a pick box, what she also calls a (retail) therapy box, with a selection of clothes to look at.
“I curate a box, pop it in the mail,” Souther said. “It’s on the honor system.”
In another effort to spark interest during the shutdown, Terra has banded with fellow clothing stores Altitude, Habits and Nest on a gift card promotion. For every $100 gift card you buy at one store you get a $20 gift card for one of the others.
“In this situation you’re still able to support your favorite boutiques, and you get a little something in return,” she said.
Souther said the pandemic-inspired group spirit is different from what she saw during the Great Recession.
“During the recession everybody ran to their own corners,” she said. “So this has been a very different experience, and that’s a silver lining.”
Eds. note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Lisa Roarke's name.