It took longer than expected, but Charlottetown's Steven Walsh is happy his new clothing store, Eastwood Ave. Menswear, is finally up and running.
The initial plan was to open in the Confederation Court Mall on March 19. But then the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) made its way to P.E.I., and the provincial government directed non-essential businesses, such as malls and retailers, close the day before the store had a chance to open for the first time. On May 22, the mall and its retailers reopened.
"There's definitely challenges and ups and downs. The passion was always there. We were going to go as far as humanly possible. We're going to not give up and see how things go. We were just kind of hanging tight during that 10-week period trying generate some interest through social media," he said.
"We felt confident at some point that the mall would open back up."
The store sells men's casual clothing, including shoes, with North American and European brand names. The Eastwood Ave. part of the store's name has sentimental value for Walsh since it was the street he grew up on in Grimsby, U.K.
Walsh came to Charlottetown from the United Kingdom for a year in 2006, went back, and then returned to the Island in 2008 for good. He worked for a local company for 12 years, most recently as a business technology analyst, before leaving to start his own business.
He said starting his own men's clothing store was something he's always wanted to do. Last year, Walsh and his wife started focussing more on the idea, which involved Walsh travelling to Toronto and Montreal to meet with distributors.
An interesting challenge for the business involves inventory. Of course, when he finalized an agreement in August to have his initial inventory order delivered in March, he wasn't planning on having the store's opening delayed for 10 weeks. And, in the next couple of months, he is expecting to receive another inventory order for the fall season.
But since opening, Walsh said business has been good. And, as more businesses open and people are outside more, he expects sales to keep climbing. Being located in the Confederation Court Mall in the city's downtown also has its advantages since a lot of consumer traffic comes from government employees working nearby and business professionals.
Like other retailers, the store is following safety protocols, including Plexiglas between the register and paying customers, clothes hangers being regularly sanitized and arrows on the floor directing people. As well, if someone tries on an item and doesn't buy it, the item is steam cleaned and taken out of circulation for 72 hours.
Shaun Patterson, a business administration instructor at Holland College, said that in general, new businesses face challenges during normal times, such as having the right products, getting to know customers and cash flow.
But now, those challenges are compounded with COVID-19, such social distancing, health considerations and, in the case of bars and restaurants, limited capacity, fewer tables and fewer customers.
As well, with online sales doing so well during the pandemic, some customers may prefer to keep shopping online rather than in person.
"Businesses are hoping there is this pent-up demand, that they're going to open up and people are going to rush back out to stores and restaurants. But I think you're going to see individuals that are a little bit wary, or have made that switch to online and are happy to do so," he said.
Patterson also said businesses need to make sure they have a robust e-commerce website in case another wave of COVID-19 arrives in the near future and closes stores again.
Working in favour of P.E.I. businesses is that residents are committed to supporting and buying local, Patterson said.
"We have, as Island consumers, just a lot of good will towards our businesses and we want to support them. So, I think we will see a certain amount of that good will spread around. It's just hard because tens of thousands of Islanders can't compete with hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers or tourists. So, we can spend what we have, but it's going to be hard until those dollars are able to come back as well," he said.
A positive for Walsh during the delayed opening was it gave him more time to launch the store's website sooner than expected, which generated online sales, including an order from as far away as Victoria, B.C.
"It's going to take time and patience, until things start to turn back into relative normality. We had to pivot to bringing the website creation forward, and we'll continue to offer free local delivery and pickup and work with the customer to make it as easy and convenient for them as possible," he said.
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