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These small businesses are keeping things personal during social distancing

By Deb Tennen · April 20, 2020
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Local businesses are all about the personal touch: they know your weird coffee order or greet you by name—and pronounce it correctly—when you walk in the door. Even when new customers come in, they make them feel like regulars.

Now these businesses are between a rock and a hard place. They need to help keep their communities safe. But they also need to stay in business—not just for their own sake, but so they can continue to serve their customers when social distancing measures are loosened.

Here we want to highlight three businesses that have figured out how to keep things personal, even from a distance.

Personalizing the gift shop experience

We're all familiar with stress-Googling "mother's day gift" or "present for six-year-old." La De Da gift shop in suburban Chicago is a real-life Google, offering personalized recommendations to shoppers. Most people who come into the store don't know what they're looking for, and owner, Jill Carlisle, is able to recommend the perfect gift.

People aren't able to physically go into her store anymore, but she figured out a way to maintain the personal touch. Jill's son Charlie helped her set up a Google Form that mimics the interactions she has with her customers when they're in the shop.

The Google Form that La De Da sends out to ask people what kind of gift they

It's not the same as being greeted with a smile, but it still gives customers the sense that they're being taken care of. That personal touch can go a long way: Jill's numbers are comparable to the same time last year. Pretty impressive for a brick-and-mortar store during social distancing.

Read more about La De Da's social distancing strategies.

Offering comic book curation and personal delivery

Books with Pictures is a comic shop in Portland, Oregon. Just like Jill at the La De Da gift shop, the owner created a Google Form and is serving as a personal shopper for her customers.

She digs deep on the questions, asking about tastes in media, specific veto items, and preferences for books versus single-issues. Once she's picked something out for you, she'll either email you to tell you what she's planning to send (and confirm it works for you), or she'll keep it a surprise—your choice.

Anyone can order from her form, but if an order comes from the Portland area, she personally drives the books to your house, and she's been posting her routes on Instagram to add to the personal feel.

A screenshot of Books with Pictures

Providing personalized wine selections

You exclusively drink two-buck Chuck at home, so when you go to a wine bar, you're probably going to ask for an expert recommendation. Something peppery? Something dry? Something that tastes like Cherry Coke?

The Ruby Tap wine bar in Milwaukee is used to answering those questions. But because people can't imbibe there in person during social distancing, they had to pivot. They got creative, and started offering curbside pickup of growler flights and bottle packs. But they made sure to keep the personalized recommendations going.

They ask people if they prefer reds, whites, or sparklings, and then they put together a mix for each customer—you don't need to pick your wines. Plus, it's an open-ended question, which means you can put specific preferences in, and The Ruby Tap team will put something together for you.

The form on The Ruby Tap

It's not quite the same as walking into a wine bar and pretending you know what you're talking about when you ask for something with a nose of peach, but it allows you to have that personal touch.

Read more about The Ruby Tap's curbside pickup.

Everyone's doing what they can to support local businesses right now, and these businesses have gone out of their way to make the experience as personal as possible. It may not be the same as having your iced apple maple latte ready when you walk in the door, but it does the trick.

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