Downtown businesses find new ways to attract customers during COVID-19 scare

Kelli Potter, the owner of Solgarden, shows off the #MebaneStrong shirts that are available at her store, as well as other stores throughout downtown Mebane. Although Mebane’s retailers are facing hard times during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are finding ways to stay in business by hosting Facebook Live sales and other unique ways to interact with their customers. 

As Mebane continues to work through the current COVID-19 pandemic, local retailers are striving to find unique and creative ways to interact with customers and sell their products. 

For the town’s downtown retailers, the Coronavirus outbreak has resulted in several new ways of doing things - along with some new products to demonstrate Mebane’s resolve. 

One of the more popular new items popping up in downtown Mebane stores has been T shirts with the hashtag #MebaneStrong, which can be found in multiple local stores such as Eclection Emporium, Muffins, and Solgarden, among others. 

“We’ve got the #MebaneStrong shirts. We ordered them,” said Jessica Carpentier of Eclection Emporium (https://www.facebook.com/Eclection-Emporium-1588849644704878/). “We have a color. Muffins has a color. We’re putting our logo on the sleeves just to promote our business, and promote Mebane all together.”

“We are selling the #mebanestrong shirts,” added Kelli Potter of Solgarden. “Shirts are $25.00 and $5.00 dollars of every shirt goes to SAFE (Southern Alamance Family Empowerment), a food pantry that helps food insecure families In our area. We have already sold out of our first round of shirts and delivered the first check to SAFE on Saturday. To purchase a shirt go to www.solgardenmebane.com and click on #mebanestrong in the upper right hand corner.”

For these brick-and-mortar retailers, who are currently unable to allow essential walk-through traffic into its stores through a statewide Stay at Home Order executed by Governor Roy Cooper, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only strained resources, but has forced them to find innovative ways to stay in business.

One of the more popular strategies has been taking advantage of social media and modern technology to reach out to customers outside of Mebane through usage of Facebook Live videos and sales.

“What we’ve been doing personally here at Eclection, we’ve been doing Facebook videos. Which has been amazing,” Carpentier said. “It was an hour and a half video. Kind of like the old QVC way. If they want something, they can just put in the number and message me, and I call and get a payment over the phone. And then I send them an invoice and send it to them. Our most successful day was the day we did the Facebook Live video. But we’ve been trying to do more videos. Videos seem to reach people better than a picture or a worded post.” 

“We will be having Facebook live sales every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 a.m.,” added Potter. “We thought since folks are working from home they could take a break and join us. We have staged our sales like a morning show on channel “MBN” - The Mebane Business Network. Each sale focuses on a different theme. This Tuesdays focus will be a Spring Soirée- All things Easter. Purchased items will be delivered or mailed and payment arrangements will be made.Be sure to follow our Facebook page (Solgarden) and our Instagram (solgardenmebane) for updates.”

Go Girl Shoppe (https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Gift-Shop/The-Go-Girl-Shoppe-277049965713301/), which celebrates its one-year anniversary in Mebane this April, is also taking advantage of Facebook Live to reach out to new customers and sell its unique products while its Clay Street location is closed at the present time. 

“Our store is only open by appointment right now. A great way to keep with us is follow us on Instagram and Facebook. Through social media, we’re posting things that people can buy. We are also doing Facebook Live sales,” owner Meghan Wagner said. “We travel around and do a lot of shows, but I feel this is a new way where people can see our faces and interact with us. And it feels like we know each other. Through these tragic times, it’s brought a sense of community - even if they’re not local. We’re shipping to New York and all over. They can see a side of me they’ve never really seen before when I’m doing these Facebook Live sales.”

“Facebook Live videos - that’s what’s selling,” added Carpentier. “I think everybody downtown that is still open, that’s what they’re doing is get by with the Facebook videos. And I think that’s what is probably going to carry us through if we do have to close. We can still do a Facebook Live video, take a payment over the phone, and ship the item to the person. It’s going to help out in the future. It’s the things you don’t think you’re going to have to do. And then you do it and it works, and you’re like, ‘Holy crap - why haven’t been doing it this way all along?'”

For Jay and Christie Doss, who run the Living Free Ministries Thrift Store (https://www.facebook.com/LFThrift/) along Highway 70 in downtown Mebane,  the COVID-19 pandemic has done more than slow down foot traffic in their stores. It has resulted in a slowing of the vitally-needed funding that helps Living Free Ministries follow through on its noble work in the community of assisting local residents recovering from addictions and other life-changing events. 

“We closed our stores Monday (March 24) at the close of business. It was coming anyway, but our business was about like everyone else’s our line of work,” Jay Doss said. “All the people that we help, we do so at no cost to them. That’s why it’s very imperative that we keep our funding going. We’re still taking donations. People call us and bring things and drop them off.”

"Our stores are not open. To my knowledge, as long as we’re not open and interacting with the public (we can receive donations). We go and put them inside the store. We’re securing donations in anticipation of the time we’ll be allowed to operate again. That’s one of the ways people can help.”

According to Doss, Living Free Ministries as a whole is considered “essential” because they are caretakers. 

“We provide residential housing for folks,” he explained. “We can still continue to do what we’re doing now. We have a carpentry shop. The men and women who are living at Living Free are finishing farm tables and benches, and other things that people enjoy purchasing from our “Redefined” store there in town (in Mebane). We’re going to be continuing to build those.”

In addition to building new merchandise for the future, Living Free is also accepting custom presale orders, and it also in the process of setting up an online store.  

“We’re taking orders for presales. If people send us pictures, or maybe have seen something before (we can make them a custom item). And we’re going to be building some to stock up with, and show them online,” Doss said. “We’re going to start an online market. Through our Living Free Ministries Facebook page. People can purchase things online." 

“Our heart, above all, is we’re here to help people that are struggling with life-controlling issues,” Doss continued. “Men coming out of drug and alcohol addictions, and women with life-controlling issues. We want people that need help to be able to get help. That’s why we are pushing forward - it’s ultimately to help people. If people are in need, please still call the Ministry at 376-5066. If there’s any way we can offer hope to people, that’s always our heart.”  

Although these are historically-challenging times for the retailers of Mebane, they remain grateful to the community not only for supporting them financially, but also for spreading the word that they are still in business, and still selling their goods to the community. 

“We are so thankful for the Mebane community for supporting us. This is affecting everyone one way or another. Stay safe and healthy,” said Potter. 

“The response that I have seen has been phenomenal. People want to see us continue to be here in the community, so they are really stepping up. Twenty dollars here, twenty dollars there,” added Wagner. “What I tell people - even if you cannot buy anything from us, the best thing you can do is continue to share our posts. Just sharing - that means a world of difference. It’s amazing how technology can get to other people, and make them interact with one another. So I tell people, even if you can’t purchase anything, the best thing you can do is just help us spread our name and our business out there. Because down the road, there may be somebody who does want to buy from us.”