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Businesses in downtown Hartville make needed adjustments to reopen to the public

Patricia Faulhaber
Suburbanite correspondent
Barb and Megan Wise own the Best Bib and Tucker shop in Hartville. Megan Wise is also the tourism coordinator for Discover Hartville with the Lake Township Chamber of Commerce.

HARTVILLE Businesses around the state are continuing to find ways to get business back to normal as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic which has forced small business owners to find ways to bring customers back.

The small businesses that line the streets of downtown Hartville are doing just that – finding ways to let people know they are open while using all the recommended precautions to keep their employees and customers safe.

“Retail shops shifted online and on Facebook quite a bit during shutdown,” said Megan Wise, who is the Discover Hartville tourism coordinator for the Lake Township Chamber of Commerce, and whose family owns the downtown Best Bib and Tucker retail shop. “They offered shipping, video shopping and curbside pickup. While shops are now reopened, we are still seeing higher numbers of customers shopping virtually. Another great example is Hartville Music. They shifted the lesson portion of their business to online classes. The stay at home time was a great opportunity to learn a new skill, like playing guitar.”

Now, that things are reopening, the shop owners in Hartville are finding creative ways to encourage shoppers to return to the stores.

“Communication with customers is an important part of returning to in-store shopping,” Wise said. “Being clear on what safety precautions are in place, letting people know what to expect before they arrive and what hours they are operating if they have changed. It's also looking at what products and services are needed at this time. For example, Peace, Love and Little Donuts began offering DIY doughnut decorating kits to provide an activity for families. In June, Discover Hartville/Lake Township Chamber of Commerce started live video interviews on our Facebook page to go behind the scenes and tell the stories about businesses and shopkeepers in town.”

It has taken some time for the shop owners to adjust to cleaning/sanitizing and new policies, but Wise said that most “seem to have their feet back under them.”

“Barber Bill at Hartville Barber Shop tells me that reopening his barber shop after eight weeks was a flashback to the 1970's with all the men in long hair,” Wise said.

There have been a few businesses which have decided against reopening in the downtown area and around the rest of Hartville. For some, the shutdown was a nudge into retirement. For others, it was due to the shift in how and where business is done.

An antique and upholstery shop did not reopen, but Wise said a similar business is moving in. A photographer closed her studio but is now offering outdoor family sessions. A few businesses with multiple locations condensed operations to one location.

Tourism also is returning, Wise said.

“We are seeing day trips and some overnight trips to the area especially from western Pennsylvania,” she said. “Not surprising our campgrounds are seeing higher than usual numbers. We just heard this month that Hartville Comfort Suites was named the Best in Choice by Choice Hotels for the third year in a row. It's an award largely based on customer service and cleanliness. We know they are on top of providing a safe and relaxing experience for guests. Selling to the tourist trade is different for individual shops. Most in the downtown area have a local and day trip customer base.”

Store are following the guidelines by limiting occupancy, suggesting (and some requiring mask usage), frequent cleaning, offering a variety of ways to shop and staying up to date on the most recent recommendations. Wise said there is ongoing discussions among the shop owners to help each other brainstorm how to open and find resources for cleaning supplies.

All of the special summer events have been canceled in downtown Hartville and shop owners are considering some activity for fall under the right circumstances.

“With occupancy limits and social distancing, it doesn't make sense to have people downtown all at the same time,” Wise said. “Luckily, there are activities happening in other parts of town, like lavender picking at Maize Valley and Pegasus Farms that provide activities for people to do and they can add a shopping stop downtown to their itinerary.”

Wise added that some owners have received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds while others were able to use the federal unemployment, and there was also a small business grant program from Faith in Stark. She didn’t know the impact as a whole was but felt that “certainly every bit helps.”

“When chatting with our shopkeepers and asking what they need we are mainly hearing help us let people know they are open and taking precautions,” Wise said. “There aren't large numbers of people in their stores which makes it easy to stay apart. We jokingly say we are still on the roller coaster at Best Bib and Tucker, it's just not changing directions or moving quite as quickly as it was a couple months ago. One of the silver linings of this has been the opportunity to try new things. We started a mystery bundle promotion in June to support our local non-profits. This has been a back-burner idea for a year and the shutdown gave us an opportunity to get it going. Once a month we release packages of three or four items. Customers are told size, style, and are shown a photo peek of what's in the box. All proceeds go directly to selected organizations and to our charitable program. This way we can keep up our community support and have a little fun at the same time.”

For more information, visit www.discoverhartville.com.

The main street through downtown Hartville is lined with small businesses such as restaurants and unique shops. Shoppers and tourists are making their way back to the area.