Just three people came into Lizzy Lou Boutique all day Tuesday, and one of them was the UPS man making a delivery.
Highly coveted parking spaces just outside the Main Street business remained vacant all day.
“I started to see it was getting slower Friday and Saturday,” Lizzy Lou Boutique owner Sarah Gibson said as she stood behind the counter of her women’s clothing store Wednesday morning.
Sales are down 30% this month compared to March 2019. The downward spiral from the threat of the coronavirus began last weekend.
Retailers all over Danville are seeing a decline in sales as a result of fears of the coronavirus and draconian restrictions on public gatherings.
“9/11 was tragic, but this has been unbelievable,” said Karen Johnston, owner of Karen’s Hallmark Shop in the Danville Mall.
Johnston, like Gibson, has also experienced a decrease of nearly a third in sales volume compared to this time last year.
“I have obviously seen a significant drop,” she said.
Sales have plummeted at Vintages by the Dan next to Lizzy Lou and The Gingerbread House at Memorial Drive and Park Avenue.
“Sales are down about 40% this March compared to last March,” Vintages by the Dan owner Robin Jones said Tuesday.
It’s even more grim at The Gingerbread House, where sales have fallen by more than half, said assistant manager Sarah Talbard.
“It started last week,” Talbard said inside the empty store, which had opened Wednesday morning under reduced hours. “This week has been another turn.”
The store, which sells home decor, coffee, gourmet food items and other products, had just ordered its spring, Easter and summer inventory.
“You’ve got a store full of merchandise you planned for,” she said. “Everything has come to a halt.”
Besides the changes in hours, Jones and Talbard have also cut back on what they offer customers. Fears of spreading COVID-19 have forced Jones to stop wine and beer tastings at Vintages and Talbard to temporarily quit offering samples of food items at The Gingerbread House.
The Brown Bean, a coffee shop and restaurant attached to The Gingerbread House, has also reduced its hours and limited seating for customers. In its empty cafe, chairs were left on top of some of the tables to restrict the availability to patrons.
Jones said she is not sure whether she will have to cut her workers’ hours — she has just three part-time employees.
Uncertainty from the virus, the resulting restrictions and the slowdown in activity have cast a pall over the usually bustling area at Main Street near Memorial Drive, where Vintages and Lizzy Lou are located.
The section also includes Dell’Anno’s Pizza Kitchen and Main Street Art Collective.
“I’m just sitting here trying to figure out what to do,” Jones said behind from behind the counter at Vintages on Tuesday. “I may cut back hours. I may close. I don’t know what to do.”
Gibson seemed downcast Wednesday morning.
“I just hope this will blow over in the next two weeks or so,” she said.
If the current economic conditions last a month or more? “That would be devastating,” Gibson said.
“It would put me in a bind financially,” she added. “It would be very hard to catch back up from that. I can’t afford to stay open every day if no one comes in. [There are] a lot of unknowns right now.”
When Gibson opened her business in September 2015, she never expected to see this type of situation
“I didn’t think when I became a business owner, I would have to deal with anything like this,” Gibson said, adding that reducing her employees’ hours was possible.
Back at the Danville Mall at noon on Wednesday, almost all of its stores were either closed temporarily or operating under reduced hours.
Belk, Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, Footlocker stores and other businesses had their gates down with signs stating that they were temporarily closed.
On the mall’s bottom floor, just a couple of people could been seen walking by — instead of shopping, they had come for the exercise.
One man was there on his daily walk on the upper level.
“I’m not here to shop,” said Tim West. “I try to go [walk] every day.”
T.J. Davis was there with his 10-year-old daughter Zakayla Fitzgerald, who had just bought a pair of shoes and a hoodie.
Davis said he had no problem with businesses closing their doors.
“I agree with it,” he said. “Containment is the biggest issue right now. Less people means less chance of spreading it.”
Karen’s Hallmark was operating under limited hours Wednesday, but Johnston doesn’t plan to eliminate workers.
“We don’t have any intentions of cutting any employees,” she said.
If customers call, Karen’s will take items to the parking lot for them.
Over at Hall’s Pastry Shop on Piney Forest Road, owner Michael Hall has been making sure the business is well sanitized and disinfected. He has not reduced his hours so far.
“If [sales] start falling off, we’ll have to start making some adjustments,” Hall said. “I’m going to see how it goes this week and the following week.”
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.