Downtown East Lansing looks a lot different these days – but we’re not talking about construction of hotels or apartment towers. There’s an evident lack of traffic. And local coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants are feeling it.
Today we bring you a glimpse into how three of many beloved local businesses are combating the loss of sales with creative approaches, along with some tips on how you can help keep them going.
These are just three examples from the many local establishments that could use your “customer support”! Find a big crowdsourced list here. You can also find a list of special promotions by local businesses at this City of East Lansing page.
East Lansing’s Blue Owl Coffee felt a hit right away from the public health emergency, reducing their hours on March 17, and laying off their entire staff. Currently, they’re open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m in East Lansing and are re-hiring staff as business allows.
Co-owner Nick Berry said the business was already undertaking the cleaning processes mandated when the stay-at-home orders came, but the hardest part has been the social distancing aspect of the special orders. The fact that they’ve only got two employees working at the shop is helpful in maintaining the space apart, but it’s the daily interactions he misses.
“The curbside pick-up is an option,” Berry said, “but most people will still come in (we are allowed six people at a time) just to have a sense of routine and comfort in their day. It helps them and us; we need the routine visits just as much.”
While previously in the midst of developing an online ordering option and an app, the logistics got foggy amidst COVID-19 measures, and therefore were delayed. Blue Owl did add the Joe Coffee app for preorders, and is utilizing UberEats for local East Lansing delivery. Berry said it had been a project they’d wanted to launch before – but current realities gave them the time and the sense of urgency to make it come to fruition.
“Our customers seem to be enjoying the delivery options as we are getting lots of posts and messages on our social media of them enjoying the drinks,” Berry said. “We love being able to send the occasional message written on the cups or the carriers – reminding them how much we love and appreciate them.”
Their webstore is also seeing a jump in sales for mugs, t-shirts, and coffee beans.
“We have a goal to sell a thousand mugs by the end of May to help our Minnesota friends Deneen Pottery, and our Midland, Michigan, friends at Creation Coffee who are in the same spot we are,” Berry said.
Blue Owl is one of several greater Lansing businesses awarded a LEAP grant, which has provided a sense of comfort for the shop. Berry said the grant has been a huge encouragement to keep going. He said it helps relieve financial stress for their landlords, investors, and vendors.
Above it all, their mission remains steadfast: to be a consistent voice of lasting hope.
“Every day, we get to be that for visitors and online customers in small ways to remind them things are still happening, and good things are happening – even in this strange time,” Berry said.
The coffee continues to promote good things, and even pay it forward. They started a community coffee spotlight, where local businesses sponsor free drinks for medical professionals in the area.
“We are honored to be a daily stop still for our neighbors and friends, and will continue to be that as long as we are able. We have a bunch of new ideas we want to work on with them, and can’t wait to get our family of baristas back behind the bar to celebrate our lives lived together,” Berry said. “We live and breathe the idea that #hopeliveshere in downtown East Lansing.”
Local watering hole, frequent ‘best burger in town’ winner, lover of pizza nugs, and provider of buckets of tots, Crunchy’s has been doing curbside-pickup for several weeks now. Owner and General Manager Michael Krueger said the response has been relatively positive – with dinnertime being the busiest part of the day.
Best for Crunchy’s is if you can come pick up the food yourself. Delivery options include DoorDash and Uber Eats, which Krueger has learned differ quite a bit from a business owner’s perspective.
“Our experience has been pretty good with DoorDash,” Krueger said. “They seem to be more willing to help out the restaurants with reduced commission fees than UberEats does. It may surprise some people that [UberEats orders] often take upwards of 30% or more from us.”
“I know that UberEats tries to play up their reduced delivery fees, which is great for the consumer, but doesn’t do anything for us,” Krueger explains. “DoorDash has cut their commission fees in half to about 15% at least until the end of May, which is helpful.”
If you’re hoping to sink your teeth into a Crunchy’s burger and sip on a tasty draft beer on the patio again someday, Krueger said the best way people can support the business now is to order through their website. Customers can order directly online, leave a tip, and Crunchy’s employees will bring out their meal to their car (in their parking lot or Valley Court). The option to order crowlers of beer-to-go is also available.
“They can also purchase gift cards on the site for future use,” he said. We also appreciate people calling in for their orders over the phone – though sometimes that can be time-consuming for our staff. We have been issues getting a second phone line installed because Comcast really isn’t sending out techs right now to assist with installations.”
With the help of loans and loyal customers, Krueger said the restaurant is “hanging on by a thread,” but is thankful for the community support so far. “People have been really great to my staff, and very understanding of small glitches here and there. We hope that people will continue to support for as long as these Covid issues persist.”
Like Blue Owl, Groovy Donuts has not shut its doors, but rather reduced its hours. Typical hours were Tuesday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. but current hours are now Thursday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Even before orders to stop dining in restaurants came down, owners Andrew Gauthier and Monica Lewis anticipated problems for their businesses, because the local schools had shut down.
“To be honest, we weren’t sure if food service businesses would be allowed to remain open [at all], and there was a lot of worry on our part that we’d have to close completely,” Gauthier said. “With that order, my partner, Monica, and I had multiples hours-long conversations discussing how best to approach the situation, what we needed to do to ensure the survival of the business, and how to be as responsible and safe health-wise as possible.”
Groovy Donuts immediately added a curbside-pickup option to minimize the number of people entering the shop on a daily basis. One option they haven’t committed to yet, is delivery. Gauthier said since operating on a “lean team,” they don’t have the time or money to integrate a brand new system.
“We also weren’t too keen on handing our products off to unknown third-parties to be delivered on our behalf. We feel most comfortable being in a situation where we can control the donuts, how they’re stored, how they’re served, and who’s coming in contact with them.”
Groovy Donuts’ owners are also aware of the large fee that many web delivery companies take from small, local businesses. The best way to support Groovy Donuts, according to Gauthier, is to buy e-gift cards, donuts, shirts, and coffee, to leave positive reviews, and to post about them on social media. You can also pick up their produce at Campbell’s Market in downtown East Lansing.
The local bakery is giving back in donated donuts – hoping to sweeten the days of first responders and hospital workers at Sparrow and McLaren. There’s also a pay-it-forward option where customers can buy a 12 oz. cup of coffee to be claimed by local frontline workers.
“We have been donating on a weekly basis to local non-profits, including the Greater Lansing Food Bank, Child and Family Services, and Saturday Breakfast Outreach since our first month open, and are proud to continue doing so. We don’t throw a single donut in the trash. The day-olds all find a welcome home somewhere,” Gauthier said.
Throughout it all, Gauthier wants to thank the community for helping their business weather the uncertainty.
“We’re working hard to keep our doors open, keep our team employed and make sure that we’ll be here to serve up a coffee, donut, and smile tomorrow, next week, and next month. Thanks to all who have supported us during this difficult time in our nation’s history. We hope we’ve helped add some normal to very strange times.”
We’ll say it one more time: These are just three examples from the many local establishments that could use your “customer support” right now! Find a big crowdsourced list here. You can also find a list of special promotions by local businesses at this City of East Lansing page.
Disclosure: Crunchy’s sponsors ELi’s weekly news digest.