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Dynasty Room – Interior Design by Board & Vellum

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Immediate Solutions for Socially Distant Retail

It has been a tough road for small businesses over the last few months dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. For those small businesses fighting to stay in business, the opportunity to pivot and re-open in some form is upon us. Facing this daunting challenge, where do you even start? This post is for you.

May 29, 2020

You’re a business owner ready to re-open your business, albeit at a lower capacity, and you’re faced with decisions about how to transform your space to solve for the problem at hand. What do you do?

Over the last few days, we’ve taken a conceptual look at how commercial spaces may evolve, exploring the potential of this new normal in a trio of blog posts on Commercial Design in the Age of Social Distancing — check out the links to them at the end of this post.

But, for the small business faced with immediate decisions needing to be made for reopening after the Coronavirus shutdown, here is some immediate advice.

Steps small business owners can take right now as you navigate how to reopen your doors for socially distant business.

This post is for the small business owner who has been bleeding cash and leveraging their livelihood on a business that they’ve poured their passion into. They were likely operating on thin profit margins and in debt to keep this dream alive. Suddenly, their business has been closed, at no fault of their own, and the government programs meant to help simply aren’t aligned to their specific business needs. There’s a chance to open up again, at a much more limited capacity, but there is also likely limited bandwidth (not to mention cash) to fund the changes needed. So, what do you do?

Let’s start with the basic pep talk. Small business owners are inherently creative and driven. They came up with a concept and moved ahead with a dream. Gather that passion and drive and prepare for the fight of your lives. (I know, you’re tired, but we know you can do it.) Creative solutions don’t necessarily require buckets of cash, but they do require ingenuity and an eye towards the next phase when you can pivot to a more long-term solution.

  1. Take stock of your space. What needs to change? Are the seats too close? Is merchandise so close together that people are going to be less six feet apart while browsing? List the things that aren’t compliant that will make re-opening challenging.
  2. Next, take stock of what you own or have access to. Not just at your business but at your home or apartment. You also have access to a network of friends and family. What random stuff do they have sitting around? A giant bag of basic white IKEA curtains that you purchased ten years ago and never got around to installing? (I’m writing from personal experience here.) An obsessive houseplant collection? A crazy uncle with a collection of salvaged windows behind his trailer? Put the word out and see what stuff exists in your world that could help solve your current problem with minimal-to-no cash outlay.
  3. Figure out what business model you’re going to pivot to for this next phase. Maybe 25% seating doesn’t make sense in your former full-service restaurant, but would an area of grab-and-go food staged in half of your space work while also highlighting the food you sell? Would fully-coordinated clothing and accessory “looks” that clients could quickly assess and buy as much or as little they need for an outfit make sense? Has your website finally got some traction and you’re going to pivot to pickups and easy add-on purchases when they come to collect their purchase? Think about your strengths and where and how you can quickly pivot.
  4. Your space is a theater. Retail and restaurants are basically drama productions. From a server taking you through a meal to a retail clerk selling a vision of you in a new outfit, your space is about taking people away from their normal day for a little bit. Now, think of your space as a stage and prepare to dress up the set. You don’t have a lot of time or money to spare on built changes to your space, so this is where the inventory of salvaged stuff you’ve collected is going to come into play. Curtain off the giant empty back half of your store. Still seating customers? Well, they don’t want to feel like they’re sitting in a giant empty warehouse so fill in the gaps between seats on a long bench not with “do not sit here” stickers but giant plants or lush curtain dividers. Selling clothes? Make unique “pods” of merchandise curated for one type of buyer and place them around the store. Customers won’t need to interact and can have access to most of what they’d be looking for all in one safe spot.
  5. Think about the line. Here’s where creativity comes into play. You will likely have a long line or a need for a well-spaced queue. Think about how Disney turns its epic lines in their parks into experiences. There will be something to look at and enjoy before you even get to the ride. Your lines need to do the same thing. It could be art or content worthy of someone’s Instagram feed you’ve staged at every point. It could be unique installations of retail product highlighted and grouped every six feet that expose your customers to parts of your merchandise they may have never known about. Or, maybe it is something that just makes someone laugh. If any of you know Wall Drug, you’ll recognize the value of well-spaced signage building up anticipation. Prepare to surprise and delight with every step the customer has to take through your space.
Dynasty Room – Interior Design by Board & Vellum
Giving Your Patrons Something to Enjoy While They Wait In Line

Dynasty Room was inherently temporary and we knew that the experience had to be memorable, taking you on a bit of a journey, similar to ensuring the lines that will now be required are not a slog, but a joy. (Collaborative Design Team: Board & Vellum and Electric Coffin. )

These steps won’t be easy and will challenge your faith in your business. Small businesses, though, are the heartbeat of every vibrant urban community. Your customers want you to succeed and are going to be more forgiving than ever before. Take some risks and don’t be afraid to pivot away from what you thought were brilliant ideas and try something else. Heck, maybe make each week a theme at your store and promote the themes on social media. In all of this unbelievably overwhelming economic insanity, there is opportunity for innovation and creativity. You can do this and all of us here in your neighborhood want you to succeed.


This post is part of a series exploring how commercial design may evolve during and after the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Whether you prefer blog posts, podcasts, or Zoom presentations, there is something for you, below.

More from This Series on Commercial Design in the Age of Social Distancing

Commercial Design in the Age of Social Distancing

The first post in this series, Commercial Design in the Age of Social Distancing, takes a “big picture” perspective to explore how a new normal doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

The Personalized Hospitality Experience

Before Covid-19 shifted our world, personalized hospitality experiences like private dining rooms, and by-appointment-only shopping were considered luxuries reserved only for an elite few. But, with social distancing recommendations in place — driven first by necessity and later by comfort — it’s possible some of these once-elite experiences become more common. Read more in the second post in this series, The Personalized Hospitality Experience.

The Rebirth of the American Workplace

Recommendations and trends in commercial office design shift in response to cultural norms, technology, and working styles. Following the 2020 pandemic, how might the design of commercial offices adapt this time? On the spectrum from open office concept, through vast fields of cubicles, to private offices, where will we land? Read more in the third post in this series, The Rebirth of the American Workplace.

Design Goggles Podcast, Episode 51: Post-Pandemic Design (Part 1) with Chris Guillot of Merchant Method

On our Design Goggles podcast, we were happy to invite returning guest and friend of the firm, Chris Guillot of Merchant Method to chat about how she is consulting with her retail clients to adapt to these rapidly changing times.

Design Goggles Podcast, Episode 52: Post-Pandemic Design (Part 2) with Jeff Pelletier, Founder of Board & Vellum

On our Design Goggles podcast, Jeff Pelletier joined hosts Charles Fadem and Rachel Scott to chat about how the design commercial offices may evolve as the dust of the pandemic settles.

Would you like to read more from the team?

If you enjoy reading our blog as much as we enjoy writing it, that just makes our day! You might also enjoy a few of the related posts below. And, if there is a topic that you wish we would cover, let us know!

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Tips for Ensuring Your Home Has Good Air Quality

With wildfire season continuing into the late fall and a global pandemic still keeping millions of people indoors, there's a lot going on in the world. Both these natural disasters have brought to the forefront the importance of ventilation for your health: well-designed ventilation in buildings is important to address present and future pandemics, wildfires, and other airborne pollutants.

How a Heat Recovery Ventilator Can Make Your Home Healthier

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