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COVID-19 presents difficulties, but business owners adapt to mainly online operations during pandemic

PMG FILE PHOTO - Rebecca Kaihani of Hillockburn Farm has been determining the best way to ship items to customers.

Customers at Wade Creek Vintage Marketplace can typically be found browsing through antique wares and locally crafted items or taking classes. But amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, the store has closed its doors and has moved to online sales.

"I try to do daily social media posts. I post lots of pictures, and people pick their items and shop online," said Michele Melbourne, who purchased the store at 664 N.W. Wade St. earlier this year.

While businesses categorized as essential such as grocery stores have been allowed to remain open, social distancing mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many Estacada retailers to move their operations online.

At Hillockburn Farm, Rebecca Kaihani noted that shoppers being unable to visit the store in-person has presented several challenges.

"It's been an incredibly steep learning curve as to what items in the store that we can easily add online," said Kaihani, citing the weight of certain items or the sort of boxes they would need to be shipped as hindrances.

Shipping has also been a difficulty at Hillockburn Farm, where customers can purchase a variety of body care products and home goods.

"It's hard for small businesses to complete with big boxes that can offer free shipping," she said, noting that while the average package costs $13 to ship, Hillockburn Farm only charges $7.

Prior to this time of social distancing, many of Hillockburn Farm's products were sold in other stores that are no longer open. Kaihani estimated that 85% of their business came from wholesale orders.

"Local boutiques are closed, and they've had to cancel those orders," she said.

However, online orders have been popular at Hillockburn Farm during this time, with some coming from as far as Washington and California. And many local customers are using the store's curbside pickup option, where they can collect their orders from outside of the storefront at 27412 S. Hillockburn Road.

"It's no contact, and it's a way to get your products without shipping and support a local business. People are going stir crazy, and they can maintain social distancing while they get their products." she said. "That's really keeping us afloat."

Taylor Gibson, owner of Lennox Jai Boutique at 360 S. Broadway St., said it's been hard for customers to not have the option of trying on clothing prior to purchasing it.

"People have been really supportive and helping small businesses, but it's also been more difficult because people want to know about sizing. There have been more returns," she said.

Social media has been a valuable element for Gibson during this time.

"We have to do social media or we wouldn't sell," she said.

COURTESY PHOTO - A variety of decorative items are available for purchase online from Wade Creek Vintage Marketplace.

Melbourne has also found advantages to using expanding upon the vintage marketplace's online presence, though a limited amount of appointments are available for customers who wish to visit the store.

"People are sitting at home on social media anyway, because that's how they're communicating with their families, and they see us on there every day. I think we might have actually had better sales (than usual)," she said, noting that some recent customers have been from Portland and Banks.

Melboune added that in March, the store saw record sales of eggs, local honey and elderberry sauce. She estimated that 70 dozen eggs sold last month.

"Eggs are hard to find, and local honey and elderberries are good for the immune system," she said.

Though some areas have been successful, Melbourne acknowledged that this is a difficult period, and she is only charging vendors half of the normal rent price.

"I want to make it work for all of us. I love this community and our customers," she said.

Kaihani has been striving to implement creative shopping strategies during this time.

"We're trying to think outside of the box with how we can help people," she said. "We've had people reach out who are looking to spend (a certain amount) for gifts and we'll shop for them with what we have in store that might not be online."

"We're very grateful for everyone's continued support," she added.

Gibson said that along with purchasing items online, another valuable way to support small businesses during this time is sharing information about products that you like.

Melbourne is optimistic about Wade Creek Vintage Marketplace's ability to make it through these unprecedented times.

"Everyone is saying they can't wait until we're open again. I have a feeling we'll be stronger after this," Melbourne said.


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