hand sanitizer
WEBS in Northampton, Massachusetts has reopened its retail store with strict health and safety guidelines in place.

Photo courtesy of WEBS.

Now that retail areas are re-opening for business, COVID-19 necessitates that safety procedures and sanitation precautions be in place. Each state has its own guidelines and timelines for reopening. Requirements for retail businesses in most states include factors that address the health and wellness of employees and patrons, social distancing, cleaning and sanitation, and in some states a written operational plan or protocol. Some states also require registration of compliance. 

It’s important to keep in mind that we are experiencing science “in real-time”. The best practices and evidence is ever-evolving, and it’s prudent that the craft industry keeps up to date with what health authorities are recommending based on the most recent evidence. This is also a time to reflect on whether your craft-based business can reopen retail space to maintain proper distancing and whether your employees feel safe in the environment. Can your shop follow the best practices to keep everyone as safe as possible? Or would a different model of retail work better, like building up your ecommerce presence and or a curbside pick up system?

signage at WEBS
The retail floor at WEBS has been cleared out of some sections, including weaving, to make more space for customers to circulate.

Photo courtesy of WEBS.

One such craft business that undertook these considerations while following state regulations is WEBS. WEBS is a family-owned business in western Massachusetts that has a large retail location with an online store specializing in yarn crafts. When it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to impact the US on a large scale, WEBS decided to close the retail store on March 20, 2020. They did keep their warehouse running with specific precautions in place.

Massachusetts, WEBS home state, has extensive guidance and requirements for the retail sector to reopen. Despite the variations in state requirements for reopening retail sectors, there are similar factors all businesses can address. We can look at WEBS’ reopening plan in two parts.

Face masks required
A friendly sign reminds customers that face masks are required while in the store.

Photo courtesy of WEBS.

Reopening part one

Health and wellness of employees and patrons pre-opening

Closing WEBS retail store and placing restrictions on the warehouse was the first effort in addressing the health and wellness of anyone interacting with WEBS. Closing the retail location while continuing online sales was the initial focus of the business. However, the only staff allowed into the warehouse was the core employees in shipping and receiving. All deliveries were received outside of the building with proper distancing and masks. 

Cleaning and sanitation pre-opening

Kathy Elkins, owner and VP of Marketing at WEBS, began working on their reopening plan approximately three weeks before the planned reopening of June 8, 2020. The first step taken for the safe reopening of the retail store was a massive effort of cleaning and sanitizing, as well as evaluating what products the retail store would carry. Employees felt some items might present a higher risk for viral transfer. These items were taken off the store floor, such as the open button display.  

Planning for Social Distancing & Signage

Elkins also collaborated with her retail employees to plan floor space to support social distance and movement of patrons through the store. The weaving section was moved off the retail floor, for example. Fixtures were rearranged and the number of displays decreased to open up the space for distancing between customers and employees.

One thing that needs to be considered when rearranging space for reopening is signage that’s obvious to customers and easy to read. WEBS’ graphic designer created themed signage that keeps with the fiber theme of the store and colors that coordinate with the store brand. Floor markings were placed illustrating six-foot increments in bright pink, which also coordinated with signs marking direction. Checkouts were decreased from four to two to allow for proper spacing. Plexiglass was placed at the registers at face level with space allowed for transaction at the counter.

Staff education

Elkins included education through webinars and CDC protocols in ensuring proper understanding and adherence to the safety guidelines WEBS was putting in place. She and the assistant store manager attended webinars provided by the National Retail Federation and Associated Industries of Massachusetts. 

Operational plan or protocol

Some states require a written policy or protocol, such as Minnesota and Rhode Island. The templates provided by some states help guide businesses and are very comprehensive. However, retail shops in states that do not require these protocols could borrow this step and put one in place for reference for all employees. Having a written plan can also serve as a communication tool that doesn’t allow for varied interpretations by employees. Templates that may be used in the shop such as employee screening checks and cleaning checklists should be stored with the plan. As the science and guidance are updated, these protocols can reflect changes needed for best practices.

webs employee in a face mask
An employee helps a customer while wearing a mask and behind a plexiglass screen.

Photo courtesy of WEBS.

Reopening and part two

Health and wellness of employees and patrons 

WEBS has required employees to self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19 as well as have a temperature check with a touchless thermometer. All employees and customers entering the store must wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. A touchless hand sanitizer dispenser was placed at the front door.

On the first day of reopening on June 8, 2020, Massachusetts required store capacity to remain at 50% or fewer, which includes employees. Initially, staff was placed near the entry door to ensure compliance with masks and numbers within the building. Elkins noted that this was something that didn’t need ongoing supervision as customers entering were self compliant. On rare occasions, employees have had to ask customers to replace a mask on their face to cover their mouth and nose, and only one patron has left the store to date due to not wanting to comply with wearing a mask.

WEBS has also implemented curbside pick up at the retail store. Order pick up was previously available in the store for online orders prior to COVID-19. This has helped to maintain sales for local customers who may have normally come into the store but prefer an approach requiring less social contact. Lastly, WEBS is currently not taking returns during this time but may begin doing so again in October 2020.

Ongoing cleaning and sanitation

Each morning before WEBS opens, staff housekeeping cleans the entire store with particular detail to high touch areas and bathrooms. During the day, the bathroom and high touch areas are sanitized hourly, and a checklist is posted in conspicuous areas based on Massachusetts regulations. Elkins states, “You can almost do surgery on our floors now!” with the detail paid to thorough cleaning, and reports that these efforts have resulted in positive feedback by customers.  

Staff education

Elkins plans to continue with webinars and keeping up with other resources as Massachusetts increases their Phased Reopening Guidelines.  Any changes to guidelines within the state will guide protocols within the store.

yarn shop
The interior of the store was made less crowded in order to increase the overall flow.

Photo courtesy of WEBS.

Looking for state-by-state guidance on reopening protocols? Check out our members-only resource with direct links to your state’s requirements.

Jamie Bourgeois

Jamie Bourgeois


Jamie Bourgeois spends time in both the health care and craft business worlds. Her “day” job is with the CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 Corp in a Public Health Nurse role.  She also owns and runs Bourgeois Baby LLC, a premium handcrafted baby bib company, since 2012

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