The COVID-19 crisis has generated a big question for many Downtown businesses: How can they maintain contact with customers while faced with closures and distancing restrictions? Answer: the internet. Several local merchants have applied their ingenuity to create online alternatives that have not only kept their businesses alive, but thriving. These Downtown business owners are adapting to the “new normal” with strengthened social media presence, digital menus, and re-tooled online stores.

“We shifted our online focus to telling the stories of our makers, brewers, and vintners in hopes of keeping our store’s feel,” said Michelle Molina, owner of the gift shop MADE and its back-room drinkery Elinor at 240 Pine Avenue. “When you are a hyper-local gift shop, and your customers are a mix of cruise ship vacationers, out-of-town visitors, conventioneers, and locals who are currently holding onto their money, sporadic web sales wouldn’t be enough. We had to build a virtual ‘great browsing store.'”

Wesley and Tanai Holder, owners of The Salt Lounge, are increasingly relying upon virtual classes and online sales.

Molina put her staff to work – they spent hundreds of hours photographing, describing, and uploading MADE’s inventory. The shop added some new features, such as fabric masks made by Leslie Lay and Black Lives Matter candles from Vibes By Summer.

During the quarantine, MADE participated in the Downtown Long Beach Alliance’s Virtual Taste of Downtown and other online events. In the near future, Molina and her MADE colleagues will begin posting audio and video storytelling about their local artisans on the MADE website, their social media outlets and YouTube.

Costa Mesa-based Panini Kabob Grill (PKG) opened its Downtown location at the corner of Broadway and Chestnut Avenue in the middle of the quarantine. Faced with this huge challenge, the company launched a comprehensive email campaign using geotargeting, which customizes email content for different recipients. To handle hungry customers, PKG is relying on a QR code, a patterned square that can be scanned by a smartphone to call up menus and place orders.

“We are currently exploring technology which would allow a customer to order and pay directly from their phone,” said Jose Jimenez, Public Relations Director for PKG. “Internet technology is the way we’re going to move our business into tomorrow.”

With the stress created by the pandemic, civil unrest, and economic uncertainty, wellness services are at a premium. This has enabled Wesley and Tanai Holder, owners of the wellness shop The Salt Lounge (853 Atlantic Avenue), to maintain contact with their local client base and expand it as well.

“The community has been embracing our transition to virtual services quite well, so we’re very fortunate,” said Wesley Holder. “Everything that’s happening is definitely affecting our clients. They want to keep their energy high while at work or home, so they’re buying candles, incense, salt lamps, and plenty of other items from our online store. After attending one of our virtual workshops, they seem more inclined to grab a little something on the way out. It’s tough for people to stay centered these days with so much going on.”

A recent Salt Lounge full moon meditation session attracted 230 participants. “That’s something we could never do inside our shop,” said Holder.

With no definite end of COVID-19 restrictions in sight, Downtown businesses will continue to adapt while maintaining a positive expectation about the future. “I see no break in the storm,” said Molina. “We’ll hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. We hope to see you all at the first ray of sunshine.”