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SLO brick-and-mortar shops pivot to online sales 

Retail brick-and-mortar shops currently have their doors closed to the public but are shifting to selling their products via online and phone orders in order to continue operating.

According to the San Luis Obispo County website readyslo.org, retail stores are not on the list of essential businesses, but they do fall under the county's list of businesses allowed to provide limited services.

click to enlarge VIRTUAL SHOPPING Blackwater's doors may be closed to the public, but their website and Instagram account are open to those who want to make purchases. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BLACKWATER INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Blackwater Instagram Account
  • VIRTUAL SHOPPING Blackwater's doors may be closed to the public, but their website and Instagram account are open to those who want to make purchases.

Erica Hamilton, co-operator of the Blackwater boutique in downtown San Luis Obispo, told New Times she runs the business alongside her mom, who is also the owner.

Hamilton has always been in charge of the business website and Instagram account, but when the SLO County shelter-at-home order went into effect on March 19, she ramped up their online presence.

Blackwater has always had an on online website to sell its products, but the store never relied on those sales, as a majority of the revenue came from in-store purchases. With the boutique's doors closed, Hamilton said she's had more time to promote the website through social media.

"We've generated a lot of sales through the website and social media, but I've also seen an increase in sales from around the country," she said.

Hamilton's mom is in the 65-and-older age group that is advised to stay home, so Hamilton has taken the reins to ensure that online purchases run smoothly. Blackwater's currently offering free local delivery to customers who purchase products from the boutique via Instagram or the website. She's made deliveries within city limits and all the way to Templeton as well as Santa Maria.

This shift in operation has also given Hamilton and her mom a better understanding of what their customers are purchasing and what isn't so popular. She said they will probably be letting some products go in order to better align with what their customers are interested in.

Downtown SLO CEO Bettina Swigger said the current pandemic and its effect on all local businesses is accelerating the conversation about moving brick-and-mortar retail into a more "21st century business environment." Molly Cano, the tourism manager for the city of SLO, said the city created a map called SLO Virtual Shopping to support those businesses.

"We've heard that businesses in a drop of a dime that have totally pivoted and are now entirely selling online because their brick-and-mortar is closed and they're trying to find ways to be nimble and to respond under this unprecedented time we're in right now," Cano said.

Map vistiors can check out the "nonessential" businesses that are still operational via website, phone call, or other virtual means. The idea came after the city created an online map of the restaurants within city limits that were closed to the public but continued to offer curbside pickup or delivery.

"There are other [businesses] throughout our community that didn't have a place to be listed or represented, so we put this together," Cano said.

SLO Virtual Shopping currently has 44 listings, but Cano said the list was just launched, so she foresees more businesses will be added soon. If local business owners have questions about what operation limitations pertain to them, the city created an online form to streamline guidance and ensure that businesses are getting the right information from the county.

The form can be accessed through the city's website under its coronavirus updates page. Cano said the city submits information from those forms to county officials for answers, which they can use to help guide the business owner. Δ

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