Our Local Shops and Boutiques Enhance Their Client Experiences to Elevate Your Holiday Shopping.

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  • Written by
    Quinn Roberts
  • Illustrated by
    Yuiko Sugino

It was a Wednesday afternoon in October, and just like many times since the COVID-19 pandemic began, “Curious Story Time” was beginning on Instagram Live. Andrew Gawdun, co-owner of Curious gift and home store on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach, began reading The Meaning of Mariah Carey.

On this day, Andrew jokingly wore a blonde wig with butterflies attached and read the book for about 40 minutes. Another fun project the store has taken up during the pandemic is the launch of a joke hotline. Andrew and his husband, Bryce, posted their personal phone numbers and provide a free daily joke to callers.

These are great examples of what local businesses have done since the pandemic began to keep customers engaged and also provide a fun respite from daily life. “People thought we were crazy for putting our phone numbers up for anyone to call, but we did,” Andrew says. “We want to stay connected to our customers and stay relevant. We have created a family business and want it to stay that way.”

It’s no secret that retail businesses are suffering, and the South Bay is not immune. Retail shops were forced to close for about two months at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; only essential businesses could stay open. A combination of customer loyalty and owner ingenuity has kept many stores open since the restrictions were lifted.

While consignment shop Return Style in Redondo Beach was closed for more than two months, owner Alicia Nay wrote only about six checks to people who had sold their items before the store closed. Customers knew they could get paid, but many waited until the store was open again and more financially stable.

“The loyalty and kindness of our customers during this pandemic—especially in the beginning—was awesome,” Alicia says. “It was a sign of solidarity.”

Now that the store has reopened, the most popular items are activewear, especially lululemon, while formal clothing has become less popular due in large part to the pandemic. Alicia says it has become more difficult to say “no” to people when they bring in clothes for consignment, but the store is doing its best to be kind and understanding.

“We definitely have less foot traffic, but the people who do come in are happy we are open and are committed to shopping,” she says. “They aren’t just coming in to look.”

At Tabula Rasa, located just a few blocks from the Manhattan Beach Pier, owner Maureen McBride is grateful for the customers who continue to support the store, given the current climate. Because Tabula Rasa sells bath and body products, along with home fragrances and decor, the shop had the difficult task of figuring out how to keep customers safe once it reopened. The store has removed all testers of bath and body products from the floor, but customers can request a tester from an employee. The product is then sanitized if used.

“Whenever we are strategizing, we are thinking local first. We will choose that over national brands. Local artisans also have the ability to be flexible. We want small businesses supporting small businesses.”

“In the summer months we rely on tourists, and that didn’t happen,” Maureen says. “The community has kept us alive. They are why we are still here.”

While the community has supported retail shops, shop owners are doing their best to include local brands and artists in their stores. “Whenever we are strategizing, we are thinking local first,” Maureen says. “We will choose that over national brands. Local artisans also have the ability to be flexible. We want small businesses supporting small businesses.”

Selling products online has been the saving grace for many retail stores that may not have been able to stay open without that option. Some even offer free delivery if the location is close enough to the store.

“We had talked about selling our items online for a while, so this was the time we needed to do it the most,” Andrew explains. “We needed to get our items online and worked around the clock to get it to where it is today.”

The big question that looms large for retail shops is how much money they’ll make during the holiday season. It could determine if and how long they can stay open in 2021. With that in mind, many are finding ways to publicize their shop and draw customers online or to the store.

During its 11 years in Hermosa Beach, Curious has always had a holiday photo booth for people to take pictures with family and friends. This year, recognizing its limitations, the store is contemplating moving events outdoors to still give that same family-fun energy.

Maureen especially loves styling the window displays at Tabula Rasa during the holidays and will personally work with customers, even offering private shopping in the store if they prefer. She says, “We are working hard to put our best foot forward and create joy for everyone.”