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New York Reopens Retail: Stores Open With Sidewalk Setups & Appointment Shopping

Take-out shoes. It’s the new normal in New York City, the hardest hit area of the country during the pandemic, which kicked off Phase 1 of its reopening this week. Non-essential retail businesses can now operate with curbside or inside pickup.

While retailers agree that policies can be interpreted differently, several things are clear: Masks are required for both customers and employees at all times, in addition to 6-foot social distancing policies.

Some independent shoe stores said there was a steady flow of traffic the first day, but others found customers are still hesitant about heading to stores — even if it meant simply picking up a pair of shoes.

Eneslow, with locations in Manhattan and Queens, remained operational throughout the COVID-19 crisis due its offering of pedorthic-related footwear. Even as restrictions relaxed, business was off to a slow start yesterday.

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According to owner Bob Schwartz, the 3-store chain had booked three appointments. “People are afraid, the city is still bizarre,” said Schwartz, about the overall atmosphere, noting many storefronts in Manhattan are boarded up, with other stores out of business. The veteran retailer said he anticipated just 10% of the store’s regular business returning this week, adding he didn’t expect a sharp increase as the city enters Phase 2.

Business, however, was surprisingly brisk for Tip Top Shoes on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, according to President Lester Wasserman.

The retailer said about 30 customers stopped by its makeshift outdoor store yesterday, which was decked out with chairs and a rug. “We felt we would see half the [traffic] we saw,” he said, adding that its companion Tip Top Kids store also saw steady sales. “Kids needed new shoes and we had tables and chairs set up six feet apart,” Wasserman said.

While some shoppers were Tip Top Shoes regulars, Wasserman said others were simply passing by. “Our regulars were excited to see us, and by the same token, we were excited to see them,” he said. To let customers know the stores were open for business, it had sent out email blasts, in addition to Facebook and Instagram postings.

For luxury women’s retailer Chuckies, on the city’s Upper East Side, clients came by the store for curbside pickups — though owner Ritch Erani said he didn’t have high expectations. “Many customers stopped to wave, and say hello, so that’s a good sign,” he noted. “People want human contact, so hopefully we can get women that shop online to come back into the store.”

Sam Cohen, owner of Avenue J Men’s Shoes in Brooklyn, which has served the community for 40 years, racked up over 13 sales on Monday. They were generated mainly from the store’s regular clientele.

“I’m a neighborhood store, people know me,” said Cohen. “They’re like family. They drive by, see my store gate open, or spoke to a neighbor who said yes, they’re open,” said Cohen, who also alerted customers about his reopening through social media.

Business was sporadic yesterday for DNA Footwear, a five-store chain in Brooklyn. According to Paul Ayson, operations manager, while several of the stores saw strong traffic, other locations saw customers more cautious about coming out and visiting a store.

Looking ahead, he added, “People couldn’t wait to get shoes,” noting this morning he received 10 calls from customers asking if the stores were open and they could stop in. According to Ayson, demand had been building since the stores shuttered their doors during the cold weather. Now that the weather has turned warm, customers are ready to add to their summer wardrobes.

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