From foot traffic to web traffic

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Collingswood retailers go digital

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person shopping, many borough businesses, such as Arts Plus Gallery, turned more attention to online sales. (Special to 08108)

There’s a certain iconography that comes to mind when you think of a small town. Maybe you visualize neighbors exchanging a wave as one passes by while walking the dog. Some might conjure up the image of children on bicycles laughing as they pedal down the street. And at the heart of any small town is inevitably a vibrant main street lined with small businesses where the owner is ready to offer a warm greeting and a recommendation when you walk through the door.

Collingswood is certainly a quintessential small town, but with the COVID-19 pandemic stretching on, many of the town’s small businesses were forced to temporarily close in-person business. So, what’s a small business to do when life is put on pause, and customers can no longer leisurely stroll in through their front doors? Well, for many Collingswood businesses, old world small town charm is now meeting the digital age as retailers develop their online presence.

Rita Marino, owner of Arts Plus Gallery, said her website was enabled for online shopping, but until the pandemic hit, she’d never taken the time to set it up. Currently in its 42nd year of business, the shop offers a variety of framing and photo restoration services as well as a variety of one-of-a-kind trinkets and gifts.

Because Marino sources handmade items and her stock of items varies, developing the website has taken longer than it might for a typical retailer. She said she’s still working on getting all of her merchandise on the site, but thus far, the online sales have gone very smoothly.

Arts Plus Gallery is currently offering socks, puzzles, dish towels, soaps, candles and a variety of other items. And Marino is working hard to ensure that customers don’t have to wait long to receive their items. As soon as she receives an order, it’s boxed up and shipped out within 12 to 24 hours. She’s even delivered items herself to customers who live nearby.

Marino said the items people are ordering right now run the gamut. Customers have bought puzzles, planters, robes, soaps and lotions. She said the common themes are things that are comforting or that keep people busy. 

She said on a typical spring day, they’d have had their front door open, and they’d chit chat with people walking in. She said that’s been the hardest part about being closed for in-person purchases. 

“It’s not always about the sale,” Marino said. “It’s about that camaraderie, that relationship with people.” 

Check out Arts Plus Gallery at www.artsplusgallery.com

For fellow Collingswood business owner Janet Bufano, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic much of her focus was on in-person business as well. Bufano owns the The Hopeful Romantic Boutique, a store that features Victorian and retro fashion, jewelry and home items. 

She said Collingswood had proven to be a great foot traffic spot for her unique wares, and she was excited for the spring season ahead. Now, Bufano has shifted her focus to her online traffic. 

She’d started her website prior to the pandemic but hadn’t completed it. She’s since completed the website and is taking orders via phone, email or Facebook messenger. From there, customers can either opt for curbside pickup or shipping. 

Bufano is also trying to bring the experience of browsing her store into people’s homes. She’s started doing Facebook “watch parties” where she goes live on Facebook and features certain items – such as jewelry – that she carries in store. She said after her jewelry “watch party,” jewelry sold well, but people are also buying teas, honey, jams, scarves, wraps and a variety of other items. 

She said thus far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. 

“I’m getting great feedback,” Bufano said. “I have a lot of friends on social media, friends I’ve known who are spreading the word.”

Check out The Hopeful Romantic Boutique at www.thehopefulromanticboutique.com. 

Local comic shop Secret Origins is also leveraging social media to reach their customers. 

Miranda Powell, who co-owns the shop with her husband Bill Powell, said they’d toyed with the idea of live sales on Facebook, but never quite found the time. Having only moved to Collingswood in November, the shop is eager to continue to build their sense of community. 

“For those who are newly interested in the genre, we want to welcome people; we wanted that spirit in our shop,” Powell said. “ Even if you’ve never read a comic in your life, we encourage people to join us.” 

Then, when the pandemic hit, they took the time to build their website and to flesh out their Facebook live idea. Powell said their goal for the Facebook live events is to mimic the experience of shopping in store. She said customers would often come in and pick her husband’s brain and banter about comics, and they’re trying to keep that sense of community alive through their Facebook live events.

They’re offering collector’s items, action figures, graphic novels, Funko bobble heads and a variety of other items. They try to make the lives a fun and interactive experience by asking trivia questions or providing some background on the items for sale. 

She said typically at their shop, they’d offer new comics every Wednesday, but their distributor has stopped operations until the end of May. She said they’re looking forward to their return and getting new comics back in their customers’ hands. 

She said without the steady stream of new comics, they’ve gone into their backlog and thought about what else they could offer their customers during this time. So, they’ve suggested graphic novels and other items to keep their customers entertained while they’re quarantined. The store is also offering free delivery to anyone within a five-mile radius. 

Powell said now, more than ever, it’s crucial for people to shop local and support small businesses that are being hit especially hard during the pandemic. 

“This town is built on that sense of community; it’s really important that they have those restaurants and businesses to go back to,” Powell said. “That’s why people want to come here.” 

Check out Secret Origins at www.secretoriginscomics.com.