- Sharon (left) and Sarah Beal
Burlington • commondeer.com
Though most nonessential retailers shut down only after the governor's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order in March 2020, Common Deer was ahead of the curve. As co-owner Sarah Beal explained, her shop was among the first to close before the mandate.
"It was really clear to us that this was going to be a lot longer than everyone assumed," she said, "so we hunkered down and made big decisions for how we wanted the [coming] months to go."
The downtown Burlington gift shop and home accessories retailer, which supports more than 500 local artisans and craftspeople, has long had a strong online presence. Years ago, Common Deer tried, unsuccessfully, to offer deliveries throughout the greater Burlington area.
"It's funny," Beal noted, "but it took a pandemic for it to really blow up."
Indeed, as one appreciative Seven Days reader commented, Common Deer's delivery service last spring "saved the day for Easter and Mother's Day."
Last summer, as other retailers reopened to foot traffic, Common Deer, which normally relies on sales to tourists, took it slow, adopting appointment-only shopping and curbside deliveries. As Beal explained, "We weren't about to throw our staff into a situation where they were mingling with people who maybe weren't caring as much about social distancing and stuff."
From September through November, normally its busiest season, Common Deer went "dark store," she said, meaning that it was open for pickup and shipping but closed to foot traffic — for the safety of both the public and its own team.
"In general, the pandemic has been a slog ... and we're not out of the woods yet," Beal added. "But it's crazy how well the community supported us."
Bear Pond Books: Since the start of the pandemic, Bear Pond Books has offered back door pickups and free local deliveries, which co-owner Claire Benedict said "were so popular, we are still doing them and don't plan to stop." In response to surging sales of jigsaw puzzles, the store sponsored a Facebook Live puzzle event, giving homebound Vermonters another way to pass the time in isolation. "Don't laugh!" said Benedict. "It's been the year of jigsaw puzzles." (Montpelier • bearpondbooks.com)
Golden Hour Gift Co.: The past year saw Golden Hour Gift Co. (formerly Birdfolk Collective) prioritize customer and staff safety by installing Plexiglas barriers, HEPA air filters and hand sanitizer stations, as well as providing curbside delivery for those skittish about shopping indoors. Staff "politely ask[ed] customers to correct their actions" if they violated store policies, store owner Nicole Carey said, and were "willing to lose a sale if it meant keeping everyone safe." (Burlington, Winooski • goldenhourgiftco.com)
Outdoor Gear Exchange: To protect customers and a staff of 140, co-owner Marc Sherman closed the store on March 18, 2020, maintaining only a skeleton crew to fill online orders and provide curbside delivery and bike repairs. When in-person shopping resumed in mid-June, customers were screened at the door to ensure compliance with Vermont's travel restrictions. As one reader wrote, OGE did "more than Plexiglas [shields] and one-way arrows on the floor. They really made a space to reduce transmission!" (Burlington • gearx.com)