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Faced with uncertain times, local businesses forced to get creative during coronavirus crisis

Faced with uncertain times, local businesses forced to get creative during coronavirus crisis

Only $5 for 5 months

Magnolia Foods, a quaint lunch spot known for its deli, bakery, wine and gourmet goodies, has transformed its Rivermont Avenue shop into a mini grocery store.

The idea to contact her food supplier for everyday staples such as milk, butter, orange juice, meat and, of course, toilet paper to sell to customers instead of the usual gourmet fare came to Magnolia Foods co-owner Adi McCauley in the middle of the night.

“I was having a tough time with all of it and was thinking, ‘How are we going to do this?’” McCauley said. “I was stressing really bad and my husband said we’ve got to try it and think of something different.”

Business owners across the state made similar adjustments last week when Gov. Ralph Northam called on all of Virginia’s non-essential businesses to close as the threat of spreading the coronavirus grows. Get creative and adapt.

The store still sells its classic items such as beer, wine, homemade desserts, and quiche, but it’s no longer displayed in large serving bowls in the case at the counter. That case instead plays host to fresh produce. McCauley said when people come into the store these days they are surprised by how much it looks and feels like a small grocery store. Many of the items are the same but the prices are higher, she said.

A gallon of milk at Magnolia Foods on Friday was $5.99, orange juice $4.99, sliced white or wheat bread $3.49, and a bag of large potato chips $5.49. The Walmarts in Lynchburg charge between $2.48 and $6.98 for a gallon of milk.

“Some pricing has come down. The more people buy, the lower we can make our prices. The milk was high for us. We paid over $5 a gallon for the whole gallon. So there’s only a dollar markup on that. We’re not trying to get rich of it, but it does take us time to open it and store it and we’re paying staff to do it. We’re not trying to take advantage.”

She said if the store can find more suppliers, prices could decrease. Until then, she has to pay what her supplier charges.

Double Tap Media, an agency that specializes in full service websites, is offering free photo shoots to help Lynchburg-area businesses share how they are adapting and innovating during the pandemic.

Double Tap Media Founder Tim Gosnell said his team has helped some businesses share on social media and websites how they now are delivering their products or services. Some clients are operating as usual, so Double Tap Media is also helping them communicate that message.

Due to social distancing, many of its clients have put video projects or larger photo shoots on hold because their offices or campuses are closed.

“Frankly, for many businesses, if they do not find ways to adapt the businesses it may not make it to the other side,” Gosnell said “So, for businesses that are affected in significant ways by social distancing practices, adapting is vital to their survival. This is not business as usual. This is a time to get creative.”

As of Friday, seven Lynchburg businesses had signed up for the free mini-photo shoots, set to take place Tuesday.

Gosnell said, on the other side of the pandemic, businesses will be leaner and stronger, but the process is painful.

Last week Mama Crockett’s Cider Donuts food truck Director of Operations Kiley Jeanis said even though staff of the three food trucks are wiping everything down continuously, wearing gloves and not touching guests, they still felt too close to people.

“We wanted to come up with a way to give people donuts, let them continue to be outside and keep them safe,” she said. “We just value our communities so much, Lynchburg especially because it’s Mama Crockett’s home, that’s where our shop is and where Mama Crockett’s really took off. We want to be respectful and don’t want to do anything to cause harm to them or threaten their health.”

Customers can now order online and pay for their donuts, come to the truck at an assigned time — when fewer than five people are present — and once the donuts are ready and packaged, they slide into the hands of the customer via a handmade chute courtesy owner F.W. Willis, who came up with the idea.

“It’s honestly been a lot of fun to watch,” Jeanis said. “People think it’s hilarious. They come up and take a video of the whole process.”

She said Willis always is coming up with ideas like this one and she wouldn’t be surprised if the chute outlasts the pandemic.

At Mission House Coffee, at 722 Commerce St., customers can get a free access code with every purchase to join the shops trivia game which has been moved online.

Tommy Clark, owner of the coffee shop, said he wanted to find a way to help the community connect.

“With so many things being done virtually, we figured why not continue our trivia nights virtually as well,” he said.

The first virtual trivia night was Friday night and Clark hopes there will be several more as long as people cannot gather in groups.

Like most other small businesses Mission House has started offering delivery using Grubhub and Doordash, and is offering carry out and curbside pickup through its app. It also is working to create other virtual events for people to enjoy, Clark said.

“I am extremely encouraged by the outpouring of support that the community has shown for small businesses right now,” he said “I believe this will be something that has a lasting positive impact on this community. It has forced business owners to think more creatively and find new opportunities to reach our customers, and it has created a stronger sense of connection between businesses and our community. We will get through this together, and be all the better for it.”

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

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