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Retailers hope for safe, profitable holiday season to end turbulent year

BOISE — Shopping appointments, Zoom calls with Santa and high stakes for small businesses — 2020’s holiday shopping season is shaping up to be unique.

As retailers, both large and small, gear up for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and the greater holiday shopping season, they’re hoping the novel coronavirus pandemic won’t deter customers. After an economic downturn caused by COVID-19 restrictions, the holidays offer an opportunity to recoup some financial losses from earlier this year, and less than solid turnout could spell demise for the Treasure Valley’s small businesses still struggling to recover.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 numbers are soaring in Southwest Idaho. Last week, Idaho surpassed 85,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 800 deaths.

That’s why retailers are getting creative with purchasing options, in hopes customers will be safe and comfortable shopping, whether in person or online.

“We’re playing it safe, first and foremost,” said Chad Dryden, marketing and promotions director for the Record Exchange, a downtown Boise record store. “We want to make sure that not only our customers are safe but our staff is safe.”

NEW SHOPPING HABITS

On Black Friday in past years, the Record Exchange attracted a line of 100 to 150 people at 5 a.m. That won’t happen this year.

Like many other retailers, the Record Exchange will limit capacity in its store. It’s also offering an appointment service for shoppers looking for exclusive deals. On the morning of Black Friday, customers with appointments — awarded on a free lottery system — can shop for exclusives in 15-minute time slots, before the store opens to the general public.

Overall retail spending, including e-commerce, among American consumers has rebounded following early pandemic declines, according to the National Retail Federation, a trade group based in Washington, D.C. Retail sales were up 10.6% in October compared to 2019, and a large majority, 70%, of consumers say given COVID-19 precautions retailers are taking, they feel safe shopping in stores, according to market research and polling data.

The data is promising for big chains, but Sean Evans, CEO of the Meridian Chamber of Commerce, said he’s skeptical whether those numbers are translating to small businesses.

“There is a lot of concern amongst the retail outlets and businesses in the community,” Evans said. “The virus, and just this whole year, has trained people to (order) online, and you’re not necessarily supporting a local business when you’re doing that. They’re not able to sell the products at the prices that online does because they’re having to maintain the overhead of a store, employees, things like that.”

This year’s shutdown led small retailers to bulk-up their e-commerce offerings, so many are already prepared to serve digital customers. Since reopening in May, the Record Exchange developed new services to meet the demands of COVID-era shopping habits, such as curbside pickup and a limited delivery option for Ada County customers.

“Some of the positives we’re seeing in this is that it forced us to offer some more shopping alternatives that we hadn’t ever offered before,” Dryden said. “Our e-commerce has definitely grown in this time. When we were closed during the shutdown and shortly thereafter … our online shop was our main outlet to the rest of the world.”

LOCAL UNEASE

Despite the diverse purchasing options, in-store capacity limits remain a cause for anxiety.

“That’s a big unknown for retail this year, is limiting capacity and hoping to meet sales goals,” Dryden said. “We are cautiously optimistic that we will have the support of our customers, and a lot of people will choose to shop local instead of spend all of their money with certain behemoth online retailers.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about 62% of small businesses say they need to see consumer spending return to pre-COVID levels by the end of this year.

The holiday season is typically the time when retailers make a final push to reach profitability for the year. Evans said he fears that local retailers won’t reach those numbers this year, and the businesses that were struggling leading into the holidays won’t survive into next year. That’s why he’s encouraging Treasure Valley residents to shop local.

“It’s your friends and your neighbors that are employed by these businesses,” Evans said. “There are ways to buy from our local merchants that doesn’t require you to get out and go into the stores and expose yourself, but when you have to, do it in a very safe manner.”

CREATING SAFE SPACES

Retailers — the ones who follow standard safety protocols, such as mask mandates, social distancing and extra sanitation — hope customers know safety measures are in place and have been for some time.

“The good thing is this not being sprung on us today and we (have) to figure it out tomorrow; retailers have been practicing it since June,” said Hugh Crawford, general manager of CenterCal Properties at The Village at Meridian, an outdoor shopping mall. “Those practices are still in place and they’ve been refining them, they continue to refine them each day.”

Hugh Crawford.

Each business at The Village abides by its own protocols — many are corporate-owned and have strict guidelines, such as Lush, a United Kingdom-based cosmetics retailer, which offers pickup orders only while its lobby remains closed. Throughout The Village common areas, masks, social distancing and hand-washing are encouraged, Crawford said.

At Fleet Feet Meridian, a franchise running shoe store at The Village, appointments are encouraged. Micah Estelle, retail experience manager, said part of his responsibility as manager is reminding employees of safe practices, and reminding customers: “It’s going to be a little different than it was before, but we’re all going to get through this together.”

“I think that we are creating safe spaces here that you can come and shop, be COVID-conscious and be safe,” he said. “The goal is that we continue to serve our running community. That’s what we’re here to do.”

HOLIDAY ‘MAGIC’

The holiday shopping experience isn’t all about buying the latest Fiona Apple album on vinyl or a Theragun — a massage tool that Estelle expects will be a big seller at Fleet Feet this season. Shopping aside, there’s the “magic,” as Crawford refers to the overall experience at The Village. Traditional meet-and-greets with Santa Claus and ice skating are still a go, with new safety protocols.

BrianMyrick / Idaho Press archives 

Santa Claus greets an adoring crowd outside “Santa’s house” at The Village at Meridian shopping center in December 2018.

The Village skating rink has a 10-person capacity and appointments are offered. As for Santa Claus, The Village has taken a uniquely 2020 approach. Three options are available: meet with Santa in person, behind plexiglass; write a letter and get a handwritten response; or chat with the jolly man via Zoom and get a copy of the recording.

“We had to think about how we did everything in the past and how can we continue to deliver the magic that we try to deliver at The Village,” Crawford said. “The families and children can still have that same experience when they come to The Village, we just made it safe.”


Coronavirus
Need a COVID test? Here are the locations and criteria in Kuna area

With new COVID-19 cases in Idaho arriving by the hundreds each day, the need for testing remains critical in the state’s response to the pandemic.

The Idaho Press has compiled the current list of testing locations in Ada and Canyon counties, with contact information, testing criteria, and the type of test offered at each location.

Jake King / Jake King/Idaho Press 

Employees at Crush the Curve Idaho administer COVID-19 antibody tests on Thursday, April 23, 2020, at a Crush the Curve Idaho testing location in Meridian.

Central District Health is expecting more testing locations will open up. The district has been working to get antigen tests to offer rapid testing at high-priority locations, said district spokesman Brandon Atkins.

The number of COVID-19 tests performed in Idaho has more than doubled since mid-September. In the week of Nov. 8-14, more than 38,000 tests were performed statewide, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

Idaho’s testing positivity rate is among the highest in the country, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The state’s dashboard shows a positivity rate of 17.8% for the week of Nov. 8-14.

David Peterman, CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, said the number of COVID-19 tests the group has administered to Idahoans has increased rapidly this month. Early in November, he said Primary Health was administering 360 tests per day. In the third week of November, he said they were administering 500 tests per day, and in the last three days he said they have administered more than 650 per day, he said Monday.

“Testing tells us how widespread it is, but we are at such a high positivity rate at this point that greater measures need to be taken,” Peterman said. “Testing itself is not going to solve the problem.”

Contact tracing is rendered useless with the rate of community spread Idaho is seeing, Peterman said.

“Here is what I want you to do,” he said, “I want you to wear your mask and not travel.”

What are the different types of tests?

PCR testing refers to a lab-verified test to see if a patient is infected with COVID-19. This is the standard test, done by swabbing fluid from the back of the nose and analyzing the genetic material through a diagnostic process called polymerase chain reaction.

Antigen tests will give results within minutes of being administered. It is conducted the same way as a PCR test, however it uses different indicators to diagnose a person. The test instead checks for the presence of proteins that exist within the virus. While it is faster and cheaper than a PCR test, the FDA has released a report saying that antigen tests have a higher risk of false negatives. Because of this risk, some health care providers (such as Primary Health Medical Group) will not administer this type of test.

Of the tests Idaho tracks, less than 2% on average are antigen tests, while the rest are PCR tests.

Another type of testing is antibody tests, which are done via a blood draw. Antibodies are proteins found in your immune system that help you fight off specific infections. The presence of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) antibodies in a person’s immune system indicates that person had some form of previous infection from COVID-19. The CDC does not recommend using antibody tests as a way to diagnose current cases of suspected COVID-19.

How much does a test cost?The costs of testing varies by testing location. Testing is free, including to those without insurance, at health centers and select pharmacies nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Many testing locations charge an administrative fee, Atkins said. More pricing details are available at the testing sites’ websites or by calling them.

Courtesy of Saint Alphonsus 

Idaho National Guard Spc. Dawit Berger on Thursday prepares a COVID-19 test kit to be administered to a patient at the Saint Alphonsus Meridian Health Plaza.

What does a doctor screening mean?

Some places require that you first meet with a health care professional before being allowed to be tested. This means having a doctor or other provider determine your risk of infection, generally by assessing if you meet testing criteria, such as having symptoms of COVID-19 or being in close contact with a confirmed case.

How do I know if I meet testing criteria?When testing locations say that people looking to get tested must meet testing criteria, they are referring to the list of testing guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While Idaho’s testing capabilities have greatly expanded since the pandemic began in March, resources are still not abundant. Many places are limiting tests to those who meet the following qualifications:

People who have been referred by a health care provider or by a public health department.

People who have had close contact with someone who had a confirmed case of COVID-19. Close contact is defined as being less than 6 feet away from them for more than 15 minutes.

People who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19. The most common symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

For more specific details on testing criteria, contact the testing site before attempting to schedule a test.

How can I order an at-home test?

Albertsons and Safeway pharmacies have partnered with the Idaho State Board of Pharmacy to offer free at-home COVID-19 tests to residents.

Officials said the test, which relies a saliva sample instead of a nasal swab, can be shipped directly to a person’s home after they complete a registration form online. The person will be notified when they can pick up the test or have it delivered.

Jake King / Jake King/Idaho Press 

Medical workers speak with patients in their cars at a drive-up testing facility for COVID-19 on April 2, 2020, at Primary Health Medical Group in Nampa.

Kuna Area Testing Sites

Albertsons — Multiple locations

  • Test type: Saliva test to complete at home
  • Doctor’s screening required

www.scheduletest.com

BSU University Health Services — Boise

1529 Belmont St., Boise; 208-426-1459

  • Test type: PCR testing
  • Appointment required, Testing criteria must be met

www.boisestate.edu/healthservices/

Custom Rx — Kuna

173 W. Fourth St., Kuna; 208-922-4400

  • Test type: Antigen and PCR
  • Appointment not required, symptomatic and asymptomatic people can be tested
  • Drive-thru testing only

www.customrxidaho.com

Family Medicine Health Center — Meridian Schools Clinic

925 NW First St., Meridian; 208-514-2500

  • Test type: PCR and antigen testing
  • Testing criteria must be met
  • Children and adolescents only

www.fmridaho.org

Fred Meyer — Multiple locations

  • Test type: Antibody test
  • Testing available to all

www.fredmeyer.com

Primary Health — Pediatric Urgent Care, Meridian

3280 E. Lanark St., Meridian; 208-377-4400

  • Test type: Self-administered or provider-administered PCR testing
  • Appointment required. Symptomatic and asymptomatic people can be tested

www.primaryhealth.com

Ridley’s — Kuna

1403 N. Meridian Road, Kuna; 208-922-9566

  • Test type: PCR
  • Appointment required, testing criteria must be met
  • Drive-thru testing available

www.doineedacovid19test.com

Rite Aid — Eagle Road

3250 S. Eagle Road, Meridian; 208-898-2543

  • Test type: PCR test
  • Appointment required, testing criteria must be met
  • Drive-thru testing available

www.riteaid.com

Rite Aid — Overland Road

5005 W. Overland Road, Boise; 208-389-1448

  • Test type: PCR test
  • Appointment required, testing criteria must be met
  • Drive-thru testing available

www.riteaid.com

Saint Alphonsus — Meridian

3025 W. Cherry Lane B, Meridian; 208-302-2683

  • Test type: Antigen testing
  • No appointment required, testing criteria must be met
  • Drive-thru testing only

www.saintalphonsus.org

Saltzer Urgent Care Clinic

360 E. Montvue Drive #100, Meridian; 208-463-3000

  • Test type: PCR testing, antigen test available but limited to exposed healthcare workers
  • Appointment required, testing criteria must be met

www.saltzerhealth.com

St. Luke’s — Ada Medical Associates Clinic

3399 E. Louise Drive #200, Meridian; 208-288-2255

  • Test type: PCR test
  • Appointment required, testing criteria must be met
  • Drive-thru testing only

www.stlukesonline.org

{strong style=”color: #000000;”}VA Medical Center — Boise{/strong}

500 W. Fort St., Boise; 208-422-1000

  • Test type: PCR tests
  • Appointment required, testing criteria must be met
  • Veterans only

www.boise.va.gov


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