Local Businesses Pivot to Survive During the Coronavirus Pandemic

(Charleen Earley, Photographer)
Owner Susan Leech of Orinda Village Antiques has reopened, allowing shopping by appointment-only for her loyal customers.

    When life threw them a serious, unexpected and deadly curveball, the COVID-19 global pandemic, local businesses decided to do everything in their creative powers to stay buoyant.
    Some have the Internet to thank.
    “We were able to stay afloat during the shutdown by ramping up our online orders and offering free delivery to Lamorinda and Rossmoor,” said Pat Rudebusch, owner of Orinda Books.
    Rudebusch purchased Orinda Books, an Orinda fixture since 1976, last October after working there for five years. Its third owner, she thanks her daughters for helping her during this time.
    “Having my daughters helping made this all possible,” she said. “I certainly didn’t want to risk exposing any of our employees to COVID-19, but since both of my daughters are now at home, we were able to keep pretty tight control over what was happening at the store without worrying about the health risk to others.”
    David and Christine Berryhill, owners of Morrison’s Jewelers, reopened on May 5, but not without extreme measures in place: amended operating hours, up-to-date information on their website and private shopping by appointment on Thursdays for shoppers who are at-risk.
    Creativity during the pandemic also includes social media for the Berryhills.
    “We do giveaways frequently on our Instagram account, @MorrisonsJewelry,” said Chris. “We just did a three-item giveaway for Mother’s Day in May to appreciate our local Lamorinda moms for the even more difficult jobs they have. We now have a shop online and we are active on social media.”
    Orinda Village Antiques owner, Susan Leech, is coping day-to-day and has reopened, offering shopping by appointment-only for her loyal customers.
    “The public enjoys visiting my store, as you would visit an art gallery,” said Leech, an England-born, interior designer, who loves using her knowledge and experience to assist her clients in beautifully furnishing their homes.
    Heliana (Helen) Bentkowski, owner of Sanvitalia Home & Garden store, located in Theatre Square, reopened on June 16, offering her customers complimentary gloves in her store.
    She has her customers to thank for keeping her doors open.
    “Thanks to our loyal customers, we have been busy,” said Bentkowski, who opened her store filled with unique blends of plants and décor in Nov. 2015. “We couldn’t survive without a strong community support.”
    Another business owner, taking full advantage of the World Wide Web, is Maureen Brown, owner of reCHIC, a high-end consignment store, who has updated her hours and service since the pandemic hit.
    “We have made a long-term strategic shift to selling online through a new website that was built in April and May and launched in June,” she said. “The website offers the same ‘secondhand shopping as a first class experience’ as the store always has.”
    To their website, they’ve added aesthetically pleasing photography, organized navigation, and refined search options to easily find the brands, sizes and colors that works for their shoppers.
    Through her website, customers can choose curbside pick-up, local delivery and nationwide shipping as well.
    Grateful that her landlord has given her a generous rent-break, Brown, who loves her brick and mortar store, is open for private shopping.
    “Sometimes customers will pre-shop the website, create a wish list of their favorite items, email it to us, and then come into the store to try everything on,” Brown added. “Their wish list items will be waiting for them in a dressing room.”
    At the end of another pandemic day, learning to pivot seems to be the solution.
    “I think that pivoting the business has stirred a lot of new creativity for me,” said Brown. “I’m motivated to move in the direction where I see opportunity. It’s a lot like starting over, but I try to not get ahead of myself by doing too much too fast or worrying prematurely. Each day I try to just take the next right steps to evolve the business and serve the community.”

(Charleen Earley, Photographer)
L-R) Lorena Souto, Helen Bentkowski (owner) and Joana Muriel of Sanvitalia Home & Garden are thankful to take care of their customers during the pandemic, with many safety precautions in place, including complimentary gloves.

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