When Randy Brinker reopened Sweet Mickey’s Candy Shoppe at 4 p.m. June 11, it was a happy reunion with customers he had not seen in 88 days.
“The people were so glad to see the doors open again, kids were literally jumping in the air,” said Brinker, proprietor of the Ballard candy store for nearly a decade.
Brinker learned he would have to shut down his store on March 16 — a date that’s easy for him to remember since it was exactly a year to the day since he relocated the business to Ballard Avenue N.W. from its old home on 57th Street N.W.
When he got the dire news, Sweet Mickey’s had just received a large Easter shipment, much of which Brinker distributed via home delivery before he started giving away his remaining inventory to friends and the needy.
As the lockdown stretched into April and then May, he remembers sitting in his darkened shop while curious neighbors wandered the deserted avenue taking pictures of the boarded-up shops, murals and graffiti.
A few deliveries of online orders each week helped keep Sweet Mickey’s on life support. All Brinker could do was watch for hopeful signs and wait for a chance to reopen.
“I’d go to sleep thinking about it, and wake up thinking about it,” he said. “I’m not in this just to sell a bag of gummies. My store is more the experience, and a lot of interaction with the public, but how do you do that in a socially distant era? It’s a whole new thing.”
Here’s how that whole new thing looks at Sweet Mickey’s Candy Shoppe today:
• Distancing measures are in place, including candy-themed floor stickers and crowd-distancing ropes to keep customers from pressing too close to the staff and the glass display cases. (The original ropes were black velvet, but Brinker substituted a gumdrop theme.)
• House-made fudge will be brought from the kitchen in prewrapped portions.
• A wall of self-serve bulk candies has been largely replaced with packaged sweets. Brinker now keeps scoops, gloves and candy bags behind the counter for customers who buy in bulk.
• The hand sanitizers on the wall will be supplemented by a new touch-free unit mounted on a post near the door — the first thing that customers see. Free disposable face masks are available for customers.
Brinker says he has beefed up inventory by contracting with a British importer specializing in unique sweets and a variety of European, Japanese, Canadian and Mexican candies. Free samples, long a mainstay of candy shops, have been discontinued, although Brinker plans to use french fry bags to send free samples home with customers.
As small retailers like Brinker get back to business, they are following the path already laid down by essential businesses like grocers and pharmacies, including Bartell Drugs, which operates 67 locations in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
According to Bartell Communications Manager Hannah Kubiak, safety practices at all stores consist of visual reminders to maintain appropriate distance; customized pin pad overlays; plexiglass shields at check-out kiosks at the pharmacy and front registers; increased frequency of cleanings and disinfecting storewide; sanitized shopping carts and baskets; and protective equipment for all employees.
Kubiak said Bartell customers have been eager to comply with the safety measures from the start of the pandemic.
“Customers have shown their appreciation by bringing in food and treats for store teams, as well as flowers and cards showing their appreciation,” she said.
For Valerie Madison, who designs and creates unique jewelry from ethically sourced materials, the pandemic struck at a pivotal moment for her business, coinciding with her transition from private showings in a small studio to an all-new model: public hours in a much larger space in the Madrona neighborhood.
Madison, who offers private consultations with jewelry shoppers in Seattle as well as Chicago and Brooklyn, began offering online consultations in January, then saw them nearly double in the past few months.
She said the digital component of her business, Valerie Madison Fine Jewelry, has served as a bridge to the opening of her downtown showroom in early July.
“The pandemic has forced us to lean into and strengthen the digital component of our business as well as our internal systems,” she said. “We feel that if we can get through this, we can get through anything.”
She called the surge in online orders a “stressful blessing” that kept her business afloat while she coped with stresses such as halted renovation of the new showroom as well as temporary furloughs of some employees. Because her brand has national reach, she said, online orders will remain an essential component of the business.
The showroom on 34th Avenue is triple the size of her old studio, allowing her to serve walk-in customers for the first time.
“We’ll be learning as we go about how best to navigate proper sanitization in our store, especially since the whole point of coming into a shop like ours is to touch almost everything,” she said. “We will have hand sanitizer at the entrance and at checkout. Our staff will have custom company masks and we will be posting staff photos on the wall so you can see what we look like.”