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Shops adjust to keep afloat during pandemic

Truffles from Laughing Gull Chocolates.
Truffles from Laughing Gull Chocolates.

The pandemic is forcing small businesses everywhere to reimagine how they operate, and Laughing Gull Chocolates in Rochester is no different. 

The East Main Street shop is owned by three young moms: Karla Boyle, Allison Zukoski and Lindsay Tarnoff. Tarnoff said the business relied heavily on in-store chocolate- and truffle-making workshops, which had to end when the pandemic hit.

“We were relying on Easter and Passover and Mother's Day to bring people in for workshops, and obviously that can’t happen,” said Tarnoff. “We didn’t even have an online store before. So we got that set up within 24 to 48 hours and had virtual workshops set up within a week or so.”

She said one of the benefits of an online-centered business is a larger reach. She said a recent workshop included people from outside the region.

Tarnoff and her partners often bring their children to work with them, and they depend on family and an intern to help watch them. Now that’s not possible, either, and Tarnoff said it limits how much they can offer things like curbside pickup, which retailers in the region can ramp up starting Friday, as New York state's "pause order" begins to be gradually lifted here.

But she said they’re not rushing into anything.

“We are really taking things day by day, and we’re trying to be flexible, but we’re trying to be responsible,” said Tarnoff. “Responsible community members, responsible business owners, responsible parents.”

She said they’ll offer curbside pickup weekly for the foreseeable future to ensure the quality of their product and for the health and safety of themselves and their families.

For Kim Wilson, who owns Expressions Flowers and Gifts in Rochester, business is growing.

With many flower shops closed during the pandemic, Wilson said her shop has been flooded with orders from across the region. 

Wilson hand-writes the notes that come with the flowers. She said her customers are using them as a way to connect with people they can’t see in person.

“You know the card messages are, 'We’re sending you so much love and many hugs and can’t wait to see you. We miss you.' Sometimes it's three or four paragraphs of sentiments instead of the normal, ''Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.' ”

But all isn’t well with Wilson. She said the pandemic has made it harder to retain employees because many of them are worried about their health and concerned with increased public contact. 

“There’s no one in my office, it is me,” said Wilson. “I’m doing double duty. I’m working putting the orders out, I’m processing flowers, I’m also in the office taking care of paperwork.”

Wilson said she doesn’t expect the relaxed state rules to change her business much, but she does expect to offer curbside pickup on a limited basis.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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