Main Street Jackson had its challenges before the COVID-19 pandemic (mostly) closed the street down. We asked three Main Street business owners how they’re doing and how they’re preparing to recover when the stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Jeannette McDonald and her mother, Terry Scott, opened Gifted on July 1, 2011. Gifted sells locally made and American manufactured goods.
Until May 1, they occupied the space at 8 Main Street. As of this writing, they’re preparing to open their relocated store at 134 Main Street, in the space formerly occupied by Willows and next door to the Brickhouse Brews restaurant.
Jeannette started Gifted when she had a “last straw” experience with her last employer in 2010. Terry had been holding home product parties selling home and garden products for years, so it felt natural to Jeannette to open a store that sells a mix of small goods including small books, custom utensils, and putty play sets.
She’s no stranger to facing trials on Main Street. When Gifted opened, Main Street was still recovering from the effects of the Great Recession. But Jeannette was drawn to that challenge. “I’m one of those people who root for the underdog,” she said, “so we’re going to go onto Main Street and we’re going to be part of the comeback here.”
Jeannette was already managing several challenges before the pandemic, including flooding at the 8 Main Street store in February, seasonal fluctuations, and inconsistent foot traffic into her store.
Jeannette sees more store visits after tax season through the summer and during the holidays. She said that 50 percent of her foot traffic is tourists and the other half is local shoppers. Many locals who visit her shop tell her they haven’t been on Main Street in years.
“We have so many great shops, truly good gems, on this street,” Jeannette said. But, she added, Main Street continues to be a well-kept secret.
Forty Winks Bed and Bath
Stephanie Swisher owns Forty Winks Bed and Bath. She opened Forty Winks in 2018 at 19 Main Street, a building formerly occupied by Trader Stan’s pawn shop. Like Gifted, Forty Winks is in the process of moving to 210 North Main Street, which was previously a restaurant space.
Forty Winks sells custom bedding, bath linens including towels and robes, body care products, upholstery, furniture, and gifts including soaps and lotions. Stephanie has lived in Amador County since 2011 and drew on her enjoyment of working at a Stockton home décor business in the 1990s.
Forty Winks’ clientele includes women and couples who are looking to decorate their homes. “Business has been pretty amazing since I first opened,” Stephanie said. “I have learned what my slow months are and what my customers are looking for.”
Stan Lukowicz, who owns the building at 19 Main Street, was instrumental in helping Forty Winks take root. Trader Stan’s will be moving back into that building in 2020, so Stan helped Stephanie find a new building on Main Street to call home.
Stephanie chose 210 North Main Street for two main reasons: being next door to Tangle Salon and exposure from the intersection of Main Street and Highway 49/88. She was also taken by the building’s quirks: “The building itself used to be a home and has a unique, yet charming way it’s set up, which fits my store.”
The pandemic and the move are not the only two challenges Stephanie is facing. “I’m trying to get my online store set up so I can still function as a business,” she said. “The business is my income, so no sales and my doors closed means no income. As of now, I have most of my in stock product uploaded on my new website, but I am unable to launch it due to the fact that all my product is in storage.”
Stephanie’s products are in storage because some vendors are closed while the stay-at-home orders are in effect. What’s more, Stephanie said, “some of my vendors have limited their days of operation and their shipping methods due to this pandemic, which affects when and how much I can order.”
The National Hotel
Chuck Swisher is the general manager of The National Hotel, a historic hotel and Jackson landmark that dates to 1862 and was remodeled in 2013 by owner Stan Lukowicz. The hotel has 27.000 square feet of space including an events room and a restaurant.
The National Hotel closed its doors temporarily in April. Though the hotel was still operating during the stay-at-home order, they had little business. Chuck said that before the order went into effect, the hotel was running at 70 percent occupancy. They only sold two rooms in April. The hotel also applied for, but didn’t receive, federal Paycheck Protection Program funding.
Those facts made employee layoffs and temporary closure unavoidable. “We’re a pretty close family,” Chuck said, “but some employees said they would make more going on unemployment.” Chuck and his assistant, Dustie Bandy, are still working at the hotel as of this writing.
Planning for the Days After
Chuck said the state needs a “whole lift” of the stay-at-home order so tourists can travel and spend in Amador County again. Even when the order is lifted, it will take time for the economy to recover. Stephanie put a finer point on it: “It’s sad to say we may lose some businesses to this pandemic, even though we are all doing everything we can to stay afloat.”
These business owners are doing that in different ways. Stan Lukowicz, who owns multiple properties on Main Street, plans to open an antique mall with multiple vendors at 2 Main Street, which previously housed the Fargo Club. This new business is projected to open in the next two to three months.
What’s more, negotiations are ongoing to open a new restaurant at 35 Main Street, which previously housed Luka’s.
Jeannette thinks Main Street won’t truly thrive until the city and property owners work together. The city, she said, “could enforce the standards we have.” Those standards include color standards, signage standards, and beautification of the street. She said the city needs to provide the means and opportunity to help where they can, but “I know it’s not that straightforward.”
Even with cooperation from the city, Jeannette said business owners on Main Street need to get together and pull in the same direction. After the Jackson Business Community Association (JBCA) disbanded two years ago, there hasn’t been a business association dedicated to Main Street vendors and their specific needs.
Jeannette notes that “it takes a lot more than just good people showing up.” She hopes that as Main Street recovers from the pandemic, there will be “a chance for Main Street to direct its own ship with good leadership.”
Stephanie plans to take advantage of her new location to work with other Main Street businesses to drive business. “Tangle and Forty Winks have already planned on doing events together,” she said. “We want to do our best to promote each other’s business and bring more business to Main Street.”
Jeannette also thinks business owners should take advantage of the stay-at-home orders to improve their businesses as she’s doing. “If there were changes you want to make to the store, whether it’s upgrades or painting or moving things around, it’s a great time to dazzle your customers,” she said.
Perhaps most importantly, establishing or improving your business website is more vital than ever. “That’s going to be a good way to impress our out-of-town visitors after the pandemic,” Jeannette observed. “So, it’s time to maybe put in some elbow grease and shine things up.”