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St. Albert retailers wade into a new normal

Phase 1 of Alberta's COVID-19 relaunch strategy is well underway in St. Albert
Bra fittings usually require a lot of close contact, and it took some planning to make sure they could serve clients safely, according to Robin Molyneaux at Midnight Magic Lingerie. BRITTANY GERVAIS/St. Albert Gazette

Many businesses in St. Albert have flung open their doors for the first time in weeks, testing out their reopening plans while preparing customers to adjust to a new normal. 

Phase 1 of Alberta’s COVID-19 relaunch strategy went into full swing on May 14, meaning non-essential businesses like restaurants, hair salons, pubs, retail and health services can now reopen. 

At Midnight Magic Lingerie, store owner Robin Molyneaux said the shopping experience will look different as the store transitions in to a long, slow reopening process.

Bra fittings usually require a lot of close contact, and it took some planning to make sure they could serve clients safely.

“We don’t have to stand inside the change room right now, and we’re only going to do this for the first couple of weeks. If we see the cases haven’t increased, then we can go to the next level,” Molyneaux said.

Two wheelchair-accessible rooms are open for fittings by appointment only right now. Clients go in to the change rooms to try on items, opening the curtain back up for staff to check the fit and adjust the straps.

When coming in for an appointment, clients are asked to wear masks and avoid rifling through inventory themselves. Once garments have been tried on, they’re steamed and set aside for 24 to 48 hours.

Shield guards have been installed at the cashier when it comes time to purchase.

“Everything is in place and it’s working well. The problem we’re having is we’re inundated with phone calls and appointments, and we can’t keep up,” she said. 

Normally the spring months are busier months for the store, and since COVID-19 hit, sales have been down by 70 per cent.

But Molyneaux said she believes bras and undergarments should have been considered a necessity, especially in a small boutique setting where standards are easier to uphold.

“For women, they have to wear bras every day. We’ve had doctors and nurses through COVID-19 that I’ve had to do over the phone or through curbside pick up. That was difficult,” she said. 

Molyneaux said she’s hopeful if cases continue to drop, she will be able to bring back more staff and take walk-in customers for bra fittings. 

“I’ve worked around the clock for the last two months, so it’s been very difficult and challenging. But it looks like we’re coming out of it,” she said. “I can’t wait until it gets back to normal, the new normal.”

The Running Room in St. Albert welcomed back customers in store last Thursday ahead of the May long weekend with reduced hours.  

“The first two days we were open, we had people lining up out the door,” said Warren Footz, store manager.

Only three people are allowed in the store at a time in order to maintain physical distancing, and each person is allowed to try on a few pairs of shoes and items of clothing at once.

People are also advised not to reach for the display shoes on the wall, but to ask a staff member to grab a pair from the back.

If the product isn’t purchased after being worn, the staff quarantines items in the back for 48 hours.

Staff are equipped with gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, making sure to wash their hands regularly during a shift. 

On Friday, the province announced outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed as Alberta eases on COVID-19 restrictions. However, run clubs at the Running Room are cancelled until further notice to stay on the cautionary side of things, Footz said.

It’s going to take some getting used to, but Footz said he’s confident their process will work well for the time being.

“We’ve had a few questions, some people don’t think COVID-19 is all that serious. But I just say, leave the politics outside the store, do what we have to do to be safe, and we’ll go from there.”

Source for Sports technically never closed as an essential business, and relied on bike sales to keep them afloat, said store owner Dave Ridd. People were allowed to take new bikes for a spin outside, which were wiped down and santized by staff afterwards.

Kids' bikes have been particulary popular, and it's becoming more difficult for the store to get in new stock from suppliers.

"I was on top of getting new bikes in here, and now a lot of our suppliers are sold out. There was a big spike because everyone was cooped up for so long, and I think it will get back to normal to finish off the summer," Ridd said.

However, even with social distancing and santization measures in place, there's still a huge question mark looming over the business. Recreational seasons for kids' sports, including hockey and baseball, are still on hold amid COVID-19. 

“The bikes saved our spring, but all of us in this industry, we rely on hockey. That’s our big business. There’s so much unknown," Ridd said.