New hope for business: Shops reopen for ‘retail-to-go’

HARLINGEN — Scott Meade was showing off his line of fancy cowboy boots as his customers slipped them on in their cars parked outside his shop.

On Friday, he partially opened Bullrider Western Wear as the state launched “retail-to-go,” part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to begin lifting the economic shutdown stemming from federal guidelines and state and local orders aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus.

Since last month, Meade and many small business owners closed their shops to comply with orders limiting the gathering sizes to prevent the virus’ spread.

As part of Abbott’s plan, retail businesses partially opened Friday, selling their merchandise via curbside pick-up, delivery and online and phone orders.

“ We’re blessed to be open,” Meade said as he stood outside his popular Western wear store.

But under Abbott’s plan, customers can’t enter the shops.

“ It’s challenging. It’s difficult with the sizing,” Meade said from under his facial covering, referring to his line of Western wear. “But a pair of boots — you can physically put them on in your vehicle.”

In the parking lot, his sales clerk used her cell phone to show photos of the store’s merchandise to customers as they sat in their cars.

“ It’s new and we’ve got to work through the challenges,” Meade said. “This is going to help everybody by at least doing this instead of being closed. It’s slow but it’s better than nothing. It’s a start.”

EDC offers help

At the city’s Economic Development Corporation, officials have launched a $1 million emergency loan program, offering small businesses zero-interest loans to help them emerge from the economic shutdown.

“ We understand that many businesses are hurting because of the shutdown and some will try to open in the coming days and weeks,” Raudel Garza, the agency’s chief executive officer, stated.

At EDC officers, Garza conducted a survey of 126 local businesses, showing 54 have shut down operations while 427 employees have been laid off or furloughed.

“ This is a personal decision for these business owners who are ready,” he stated, referring to businesses partially opening Friday for retail-to-go. “There is apprehension from some business owners and some consumers. Our plan is to support businesses in any way we can regardless of whether they open now or later. We need to keep our eyes on the long-term and pray that this virus is controlled and this process is managed correctly to keep people safe.”

Shopping amid fear

Outside South Tex Beauty Supply, a sales clerk was taking Chris Patino’s order from her car window.

“ I was waiting for it to be open because, ‘Look at my hair!’” Patino, a retired health care provider, said. “This place is the place I buy stuff for my hair.”

Since last month, fear of the COVID-19 virus has kept her home, except when she drives to H-E-B, said Patino, who’s worried about catching the virus that can pose severe health threats to her because she’s diabetic.

“ I don’t go anywhere,” she said. “It’s scary because of the virus. But we need this stuff.”

Then Patino paused. The nation’s economic crisis has hit home, where some in her family have suffered job cuts, she said.

“ I know people who aren’t working right now. It’s terrible,” she said. “It’s terrible for a lot of people who have to pay rent.”

In San Benito, when Iris Garcia wasn’t meeting her customers outside her shop Friday, she was delivering desks.

“ I’m seeing the shop come back to life,” said Garcia, owner of the Little Shop with a Little Bit of Everything.

“ Retail-to-go is really allowing us to sell. I feel it’s helping,” she said. “People are buying — but it’s not normal.”

Garcia said she’s using Facebook to hawk her merchandise.

“ They can shop on-line or through Facebook,” she said. “There are items I post that they are buying. I will meet them at curbside and bring it to them. I have also delivered a few miles to people in the area.”

Like other merchants, Garcia is counting on Abbott’s soft opening of Texas’ retail businesses to lift the state’s economic shutdown.

“ It has kept some of us on bended knees,” she said. “I’m hoping this leads to the doors opening and getting back to normal.”