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Downtown business beginning to open up in Elizabethton after hard freeze

John Thompson • Updated Apr 22, 2020 at 9:58 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Like the blossom of a spring wildflower, downtown Elizabethton seems to be combing back from the frostbite to the local economy caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Downtown stores that were closed all last week have been open for several hours a day this week and are planning to be open for more hours next week.

Some of these stores, such as Ritchie’s Furniture and Appliances, were able to stay open because they were classified as a purveyor of essential supplies, like appliances. Others businesses have used innovative techniques, such as using their Facebook pages as a showroom to allow customers to browse the virtual aisles of the store before making purchases.

“We were able to stay open because we sold appliances,” a Ritchie’s employee said. In fact, during the early days of the quarantine, Ritchie’s sold out of some appliances, such as freezers. After that, business slowed for Ritchie’s and the store was open only a few hours per day.

But business appears to be picking up and Ritchie’s returned to normal hours on Monday. In a notice in the store’s Facebook page, customers were told “we are glad to inform you that we will be back to work tomorrow with normal business hours. We will still have one access point.” The notice also said social distancing requirements would be followed. “We look forward to getting back to normal,” the notice concluded.

Business is getting back to normal as the hours have returned to normal. The spokesperson for the company said the reason for the increased business this week could be connected to the distribution of the government stimulus checks that have started reaching residents.

Simple Blessings General Store has also seen business improve. Store owner Rita Russell said that because it had a deli providing lunches and other meals, the business was also categorized as essential. The business began to expand its food offerings, such as providing family kits, where all the items were placed together in a box, which customers could take home and heat up for dinner. 

Russell said customers were not allowed to dine in the cafe, but while they were awaiting their meal kits to be prepared, they could buy items in the store, helping those sales as well. The store enforced the social distancing rules by allowing no more than 10 people in the store at one time.

A surprise windfall came Russell’s way when she began preparing Easter baskets for customers. Those baskets were displayed on the store’s Facebook page and the display, plus word of mouth praise for the baskets, led to increasing demand. Russell ended up making and selling 85 Easter baskets this season, solving her worries over the payment of some bills and wages.

Simple Blessings continues to get its business hours closer to normal, although it still is not open on Saturdays.

The stories of Simple Blessings and Ritchie’s are being shared by other downtown businesses, according to Courtney Washburn, program director for the Elizabethton Main Street organization.

Washburn said several restaurants are also coming back, such as the Southern, Coffee Company and Big Dan’s.

She said a delivery service being offered by Felty-Roland Florist has helped that business through the economic downturn.

Washburn said using online pages to help customers shop has helped the gift shop located in Lingerfelt’s.

The story Washburn is telling about the condition of business in downtown Elizabethton is not the doom and gloom one hears so often in his time of trials. Instead, Washburn is telling a story about the continued innovation and imagination that small businesses have demonstrated for hundreds of years of tough times.