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Babylon Village retailers describe their ‘new normal’ amid virus outbreak

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On March 23, Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino announced an executive order prohibiting the entering of restaurants/bars and other essential storefronts.

These businesses can only operate through curbside pickup and delivery services only. This mandatory order is a precautionary measure to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to encourage social distancing.

Many restaurants in the village have adapted to takeout and delivery only services, however with retail businesses — such as boutiques, shops, even dance studios — the shift to this new normalcy is more of a challenge.

The good news is, these businesses aren’t giving up.

Many retailers in the village are quickly adapting to this new normalcy of running their storefront virtually.

Kelly Peckholdt, owner of Positions Dance Studio and president of the Babylon Chamber of Commerce, said since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and the announcement of the stay-at-home mandates, the chamber has supported these small businesses by sending whatever resources they need to remain afloat.

Peckholdt said she is amazed at how quickly the community has come together to support these local retailers and how these businesses have already adapted to this new normal.

“I’ve seen so many businesses in the Village adapt and overcome so quickly, Peckholdt said. “It’s been really amazing to see them flip their business models on their heads.”

The dance studio owner is offering virtual classes for kids and adults through Zoom. For $25, adult dancers can join the Positions Fitness Facebook group and have unlimited access to all videos and content. Positions Dance Studio is selling dance apparel through their Instagram and delivering them for free.

“It’s just something to keep people going and keep people in shape,” Peckholdt said. “It gives them something to look forward to each day and it’s good for themselves.”

Peckholdt said it’s been interesting shifting to an online business model for Positions Dance Studio. She is used to teaching, correcting form, and having that “comradery and energy” with in-person dance classes, but is looking forward to seeing her kids adapt to learning virtually.

So far, many of her dancers have responded well to the online classes and continue to support her business during this time.

“I’ve seen a huge outpour of support from the community,” she said. “I think people really value having all these businesses and they don’t want them o have to close their doors, so it’s been really wonderful to see that support and it helps us keep doing.”

Rosa D’Aleo, owner of Royal Dance Center, has established constant communication with the families of the dance center and put forth a plan before businesses were shut down, so her studio was able to adapt well to the closure.

She gave her students a spring break so they and their families could adjust to homeschooling and new schedules, but after a week she jumped right into virtual dance classes.

“I kept every class at the same time it was scheduled at the studio so this way it provided that consistency and routine for everyone,” D’Aleo said.

She said 80 to 90 percent of her students were excited to learn and start dancing again.

“They are not used to this new normal that we are trying to set up, so overall it went really well,” she said. “It’s definitely different from a dance studio owner’s point-of-view, but it’s working as best as it can.”

D’Aleo said she is also offering for the parents and adults in the community free virtual classes in an effort to help relieve stress during this time.

“People want to work out in the gym right now, and they can’t,” she said. “It gives everyone something else to try and keep their time occupied.”

Royal Dance Center is also running weekly contests on their social media. Enrolled dancers are encouraged to submit a video of them performing a dance routine and if they are chosen as the winner of the contest, they can win free tuition for the month of April.

Theresa Ribarich, owner of The Boutique, has turned her store into an online shop on Instagram and is working on creating a website for her merchandise.

She’s posting items with the price on Instagram and offering curbside pickup, free delivery (determined by the location) and free shipping for orders over $50.

Shifting to a virtual store has been difficult for Ribarich, she says, but she is adapting and learning through this experience.

“It’s so hard for me to be virtual because of my natural personality of being ‘under the radar,'” she said. “I am forced to face those fears and I plan on growing mentally from it.”

Ribarich, who reopened her store at her new location on East Main Street at the end of February, said the community support has been amazing during this closure.

“I feel so privileged to call Babylon Village home for the Boutique,” she said.

Jacqueline DiDonato, owner of Pandemonium Boutique, said most of her business now is being conducted through social media.

DiDonato goes into her store alone, takes pictures of her merchandise and posts it to her feed. When someone interested in buying a product messages her, she follows up with a phone call to confirm the purchase.

She said she’s made quite a few sales so far. Most of her customers are waiting for the store to reopen to pick up their purchases, but she said she offers curbside pickup to those who want them immediately.

In her 30 years of running businesses, 15 of those years running Pandemonium, this is the most stressful period she has had as an owner.

“I survived [Hurricane] Sandy, survived the recession, there have been many times that have been up and down, and we’ve always made it through,” she said.

Since there is such a disconnect between her and the consumer, she has had to work extra hard to engage with people and make a sale.

“It’s definitely the hardest we’ve had to work, but I’m happy to have the business because it’s very distracting for me,” DiDonato said. “It’s a blessing.”

She said Babylon Village community has always been very strong and through this crisis, the town has been connected and collaborating on ways they can support each other during this difficult period.

“It’s been an emotional time,” she said. “Everyone is suffering, and the fact that they care about their small businesses when they’re suffering as well if pretty incredible.”

Top: Inside view of The Boutique’s new location in Babylon Village (file photo).