As New York businesses navigate reopening following the statewide pause, I visited Bethany Haswell to find out what’s involved in operating a retail store during an active pandemic. Haswell owns Stomping Grounds, which has been open in downtown Geneva for a decade.
"It has a vintage vibe that kind of informs what the sales floor looks like," says Haswell. "We sell new and used books. We do fine art printing. We do custom picture framing. And we have gifts that we hope will put a smile on your face."
Stomping Grounds actually closed about a week before Governor Cuomo mandated the closure of non-essential businesses across the state. For several months, Haswell focused her efforts on the store’s presence on Etsy. She also converted the store’s largely informational website into an e-commerce page.
"We had a Web site because we needed to have a Web site," says Haswell, "but I had never used it as a powerful marketing tool that it could be."
Once Stomping Grounds was allowed to reopen in Phase 2, Haswell waited a few weeks to reopen while some of her vendors started shipping again. When she did reopen, customers returned immediately.
"We felt very welcomed back by the community," said Haswell.
"Well, to tell you the truth," says Haswell, "we have been so busy at the store that there have been times when definitely feeling overcapacity in here in terms of being able to manage social distancing."
Haswell thinks is a time not only to react to the necessities of the pandemic, but to rethink what a retail store can be.
For Stomping Grounds, that means shopping by appointment. Hawell is accepting appointments from groups of up to four who will have the entire store to themselves. She says that she hopes to create an experience for her customers that is calm and where they can receive her complete attention.
And, it should free her up to work on further reimagining the space.
"I'll be able to really highlight and feature some of the amazing imagery that we have in our digital archive," says Haswell. "I'll be able to do installations from local artists and exhibitions of things that go according to themes such as Botany. I'm working on medicine because of the big archive of antique and vintage imagery that we have. It can be almost a history exhibit and an art exhibit combined into one."
Which is not to say that Stomping Grounds would never be open for regular hours. Haswell thinks a monthly opening, much like a gallery exhibit is something she’s considering. The gallery model is only one that informs her current thinking about Stomping Grounds.
"You've always been by appointment with your lawyer, with your doctor, with your insurance agent, with your hairdresser," says Haswell. "Now it's just time to maybe think about appointment retail."
For now, it does take some education for Haswell to let her customers know that appointments are the way to go.
"I've had people worried that that it's going to be an inconvenience to me if I have to open the store just for them," says Haswell. "That's that's not my thinking. My thinking is I want my store open just for them. That's the point of doing this, that my store can be open just for them."
Stomping Grounds is located on Seneca Street in downtown Geneva and online at stompinggrounds.com.