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Local business prioritizes customer safety

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Stacy Kowalczyk, co-owner of Otter River Outfitters, discusses what she, her husband, and their employees are doing to operate their store on a limited basis, while at the same time, what they are doing to keep customers safe and healthy.

HOUGHTON — Otter River Outfitters clothing store on Shelden Avenue, had decided to re-open its doors, while at the same time making safety the Number 1 priority.

Stacy Kowalczyk said she and her husband after lengthy discussions, decided on Tuesday to experiment with re-opening. Two principle factors compelled the decision, she said: curbside service was confusing to both employees and customers, and “it’s really hard to stay in business without having an income.”

The store is open with limited hours, Kowalczyk said. Currently hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

“We just figured we’d search it out, and get back into the swing of things,” she said.

A new policy in place is social distancing, with customers being expected to maintain social distancing of at least six feet. If clothing items are tried on, they are to be left in the changing rooms, where they can be removed from the sale area and disinfected before returning them to the display racks.

Additionally, after every use, the changing rooms are disinfected and cleaned, and after every customer purchase, the sales counters are sanitized to assure maximum protection against Coronavirus.

Kowalczyk said that while business has been very slow, visiting customers have been very supportive, respectful, and have not needed to be instructed on social safeties.

“Everybody’s considerate, and nice,” she said. “We haven’t had any problems. We’re not enforcing the masks as long as people maintain distance, but it’s a big store, so it’s easy avoid getting to close.”

To make social distancing easier, Kowalczyk said the number of people allowed in the store at one time is limited to eight, including the two employees.

Everyone has been very respectful of the six-feet apart distancing rule, she said, and customers have been following the guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they do not need to be advised on safety practices.

Kowalczyk said she is grateful for the customer support in policing themselves, because remaining closed is no longer an option if the business is going to survive. Expenses still continue, whether the store is opened or not, she said.

“You have to pay for your inventory,” she pointed out, “and you have to pay your rent, and you still have to pay for electricity, and you still have to pay for the credit card machine, and you still have to pay insurance, phone bills and internet — the bills don’t stop.”

The stimulus check, she said, did not even cover the first month the business was shuttered.

“But eventually, you have to start getting back into the swing of things,” she said, “like whether you start with limited business hours — you have to have time to figure out, especially when nobody has come up with an exact way to do it, and see what works for everyone.”

Kowalczyk said she and her employees have heard only good feedback. Nobody has called the police, or has been threatening; feedback has been positive.

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