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While COVID-19 has been hard on local businesses, iconic MudPuddles toy store expects to survive.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Kate Noreen, owner of Sherwoods MudPuddles Toys and Books, has kept a positive attitude during the COVID-19 pandemic, learning new ways to do business to keep her store afloat.When Corey Kearsley started as executive director of the Sherwood Area Chamber of Commerce in December of 2018, little did he know a pandemic would grip Sherwood and the world a little over a year later.

It has been a struggle for many businesses in Sherwood and Kearsley is well aware of the hardships felt locally.

The year 2020 saw the thick of the pandemic as shutdowns throughout the world brought business, travel and entertainment to a near standstill.

Looking back at businesses in town, Kearsley said, "It's been a real struggle for most. There are some businesses that have really done well during this time. It's probably the exception more than the rule."

Kearsley continued, "For the most part, especially in Sherwood, where we have such a high number of really smaller businesses – the biggest challenge that they face is just the uncertainty. It's really hard to plan week to week, month to month, when they don't know what's going to be allowed and what's not going to be allowed."

Kearsley estimates that most businesses in Sherwood have fewer than 10 or 15 employees.

"It's a lot of local ownership," Kearsley said. "It's husbands and wives working together, trying to run a business. Staffs are small and that sometimes makes it really hard, because for those businesses that had to shut down, they had to either furlough people or let them go. And when you do that, you run the risk of not getting them back, and I think that's happened in a number of situations."

One business in Sherwood that is weathering the COVID storm is MudPuddles Toys and Books.

Store owner Kate Noreen looked back at the challenges last year.PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - MudPuddles Toys and Books found a niche in Sherwood years ago and has continued to find ways to market itself during the pandemic.

"It was so hard, because we are known as the hands-on toy store," Noreen said. "I've set up this store as an experience for people. That didn't really work out for us – we closed our doors right away, but we actually never closed. We moved to doing curbside pickup right away."

Noreen, who has owned the store since 2012, said their website helped the business. In addition to its Sherwood location, there's a MudPuddles Toys and Books on Kearney Street in Northwest Portland.

"We had a website that was just built in the fall of 2019," she said. "We just started loading stuff up on there. I have a staff person who built it. She was coming in every morning and loading up product on there. I feel like we worked really hard for every sale – I was putting stuff out there on Facebook and Instagram."

Fast forwarding to April 2021, Noreen said her store did very well during the Easter period, but, as shopping patterns continue to change, "I am still going to have to work really hard for every sale -- I do think that retail is changing. I'm just trying to remind people that we're here."

She added, "MudPuddles is here to stay. We're going to survive this."

The Sherwood Chamber has adapted to the pandemic by lending a hand to businesses. Kearsley admits this last year was different for the chamber.

"We've really spent a lot more time on trying to be a resource for all of these businesses," he said. "Every day, they're waking up in the morning trying to figure out what product do I have available to sell, what customers can I let in the door. They have all those challenges of just running their business."

Kearsley said it's not so much businesses reaching out to the chamber, it's the chamber getting in touch with local business.PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Corey Kearsley, executive director of the Sherwood Area Chamber of Commerce, said the biggest challenge for the citys small businesses is adapting to the uncertainty of state guidelines regarding day-to-day operations at their business.

"We've had some partnerships with the city where we've done phone calls, Zoom calls, lot's of emails and newsletters," according to Kearsley. "We try and gather all that information and then try and distribute it as far and wide as we can possibly reach all those businesses."

Kearsley said the city has been a great partner with the chamber during these COVID times.

"They have access to a lot of information from their business licenses that we don't have access to," he said. "They can a reach a lot of the businesses that we can't."

As we advance through 2021, with more people getting vaccinated, Kearsley said he's cautiously optimistic.

"The hope that as people get vaccinated and summer comes, and people are outdoors more – hopefully we'll get to that point where we can get back to some semblance of what we had before," Kearsley said.

Asked about his chamber's challenges ahead, Kearsley talked about the need to pivot the focus of the chamber from being a facilitator of bringing people together to being a facilitator of information to help address concerns from local business.

Kearsley added, "The biggest challenge for us is just, kind of, re-writing our role, so to speak." PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - MudPuddles Toys and Books has a wide selection of inventory.


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