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What’s Up Downtown: Now best time to innovate, pivot your business model (Voices)

Alex Stettinski

What's Up Downtown

Alex Stettinski is executive director for the Downtown Reno Partnership.
Courtesy photo

RENO, Nev. — While COVID-19 has caused massive business closures across the country, a few in downtown Reno have taken this time to reconfigure their models to adapt to the changing guidelines.

In many cases, those businesses have gone online and ramped up their social media marketing and some cases they’ve retooled their business model. 

“We realized we had access to these distributors and anything and everything people would order and eat at the grocery store,” Kevin Stanley, owner of Old Granite Street Eatery, told the Downtown Reno Partnership. “At the same time, we kept hearing these nightmares about things running out on the shelves and I thought, ‘Hey, there’s no reason this should be running out and can’t be made available so why don’t we sell it through the restaurant?’”

Two restaurants, Old Granite Street Eatery and Liberty Food and Wine Exchange, have both converted into small, specialty markets that also do take-out food. The Great Basin Community Food Co-Op painstakingly converted its internal database to an online database and added curbside pick-up and delivery, too.

“It’s a good second revenue stream, it’s really what’s floating us right now,” Stanley said. “The amount of market orders accounts for 70% of our orders right now. Another 15% are market orders with take-out and the rest are just take-out.”

Sundance Books and Music and La Terre Verte, for example, immediately started pushing their customers to go online for delivery of their specialty products.

The city of Reno updated its business guidelines at the end of April, allowing to-go packaged alcohol and cocktails and opening up curbside retail. This gives small businesses an opportunity to update their websites for online ordering and for curbside pick-up.

Customers will likely learn to shop this way and may expect curbside pick-up in the foreseeable future in order to feel safe. If, for example, city, state and federal governments expect retailers and restaurants to enforce social distancing during phased reopening, then curbside pick-up may be necessary to fill in your foot traffic volumes. 

Stanley is working to remodel Old Granite Street Eatery during the shutdown so that when it reopens, customers can also grab food to go from a deli case and even pick up staple items for their home, for example.

“This is the opportunity we have to really get out of the rut,” Stanley said. “I get mad at myself for not doing it sooner, but the fact is when your head is down and you’re making it go from day to day, you don’t have the right motivation to change.”

Similarly, Liberty Food and Wine reopened with its classic Italian-inspired take-home food while also adding market items. Owner Mark Estee rejiggered the space to promote social distancing and safety for people who walk into the store. But anyone can do curbside pick up or delivery. 

“We are taking requests, so if you say, ‘Hey, why don’t you try to add this,’ we’ll do our best to do so,” Estee said on a Facebook Live tour of the new market.

Now is a good time to experiment. Going online may be new to a lot of businesses, so taking a page out of the restaurants’ playbook could be helpful. 

Consider starting email newsletters for direct communication to customers and sales. Update your website, Google Business Page and social media accounts to reflect new hours, return policies, curbside and safety policies. Research eCarts that work with your website and consider integration with PayPal, Apple Pay, GooglePay and other contactless ordering options. 

Create an online catalog of your products and services. This is likely something customers have wanted for a long time anyway, but now is the perfect time to set this up and create a workflow for the future when season products change.

These catalogs will help you compete with online retailers as people become more timid about going out with the hope of finding something instead of the sure-thing of punching a few words into a Google search and coming up with Amazon results.

At the Downtown Reno Partnership, our marketing and economic development teams are gearing up for Gov. Steve Sisolak’s four-phase reopening of Nevada. For us, that means collecting better contact information for our stakeholder businesses, creating a branded reopening campaign and creating a best practice guide for customer safety. 

We hope that downtown can help set the tone for what reopening looks like across Northern Nevada. Until then, stay safe, Reno.

“What’s Up Downtown” is a recurring Voices column in the NNBW authored by Alex Stettinski, executive director of the Downtown Reno Partnership. Reach him for comment at astettinski@downtownreno.org.


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