"Because high schools were out, groups of teenagers were coming in the store with nothing else to do,” Longyear said. “So it didn't feel safe."
When Gov. Roy Cooper announced the first official stay-at-home order was set to start on March 30, Longyear said she had to lay off her entire staff at all three Rumors locations and help them apply for unemployment.
Marilyn Payne, the manager of communications and marketing of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said after the initial stay-at-home order, many retail stores were unable to stay open even in an online format.
"We have businesses that had to come up with different structures for sales other than the traditional delivery services of online shopping, which exist," Payne said. "So over the course of the six weeks between the initial stay-at-home order and entering Phase 1, we saw a lot of businesses adjust what their website looks like."
Longyear said for their own conversion to mostly online shopping, the owners of Rumors decided to rely on the company's large social media following and began to upload inventory on Instagram.
She said Rumors' online listing has gone from an accessory of the store to the core way it currently does business, and the store now sells 30 to 40 items a day online.
"It's different from shopping on a website because, you know, we still have to be the first one to find it," Longyear said. "The first one to see it in order to get it, and it took off."
Since the beginning of Phase 1 of reopening, Payne said many other retail stores in downtown Chapel Hill have started to allow customers inside with safety precautions put in place at 50 percent capacity, as per Cooper's Phase 1 executive order.
She said many stores have also put up plastic barriers between cashiers and customers, enforced face mask regulations, marked the suggested 6-foot distances, moved displays to allow people to have space and provided hand sanitizer for customers and employees.
Matt Gladdek, the executive director of the Downtown Partnership, said the organization and its partners are currently looking to expand options for retail stores looking to cater to their customers.
"We're working with the town to allow sidewalk sales, so businesses have more ability to be socially distant and open air," Gladdek said. "We're also working on possible use of parking lots for more socially distanced and open-air events."
For students who are unable to visit or support their favorite local shops in person, Payne said she recommends looking at the Downtown Partnership's COVID-19 page for updated information on purchasing gift cards or making donations.
Payne said shoppers should also keep safety practices in mind when considering shopping at local businesses.
"Just mind the business practices and social practices that the CDC recommends," Payne said. "But if you're if you're following those rules and you want to get out and you want to shop, or you want to order takeout, the businesses that we have that are open are making sure that they're safe so that you can be too."
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