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Passing the Time

Merchants see games, puzzles flying
off shelves during pandemic

Many items become hard to get so store owners
have to improvise



(December 2020) – As the nation enters the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, many merchants have had to face the possibility of losing their livelihoods. Not only have they had to adapt to the new norm, many have found getting their merchandise from their suppliers is difficult, and the preferences of their customers have changed. And, of course, many can recall the greatest crises of the entire epidemic – the mysterious toilet paper shortage, which may be coming full circle.
McWhiggins Wonder Emporium, a toy store on Madison, Ind.’s Main Street, is a good example of that “adapt or die” process. Taylor Rhinehart is the co-owner of the store along with her mother, Ellie Troutman. According to Rhinehart, “We had only been open for a few months when the virus first hit, and it was quite a trying time when we were forced to close our doors. It was very natural to be negative about the situation but we made a concerted effort to stay positive. Our first effort was to update our website, and then we turned to Facebook. Now each Wednesday we have a two-hour live program where we feature items in our store. Through all of this many of our customers have remained very loyal and very encouraging.”

Photo by Ben Newell

Tayler Rhinehart at McWhiggins Wonder Emporium in Madison, Ind., says customers are returning to their old hobbies, such as jigsaw puzzles.


When asked about merchandise shortages and changes in customer tastes, Rhinehart replied, “Well, for the first time, I’ve had trouble re-ordering jigsaw puzzles. And it seems that people have returned to some of their old hobbies. For example we have had an increase in the demand for trains.”
If you’re looking for that special outing during the Christmas season with your children or grandchildren, a tour of the Emporium is bound to fit the bill. Not only will you find all the new toys that kids want, you are sure to find some that you played with as a kid. You can also treat yourself to that amusement park game called Skee ball.
Across the street from the Emporium is the Madison Buy Sell Trade store, another business that has had to adapt to changing business climate. Shawn Coghill owns the establishment and has also faced the challenges brought on by the virus.
“We were helped in the initial days of the shutdown,” said Coghill, “because we were classified as an essential business. We had some items that people needed for their homes.
Business was quite slack for awhile, but as people stayed home, they began to come here for things to keep them busy.”
Coghill found that people got back into working on collections that they didn’t have time for in the past. “We started getting calls for new comic books and coins, but unfortunately, our suppliers couldn’t get them because they weren’t being produced. But we did well helping them fill in the holes in their collections.”
The store also stocked other hobby items like baseball cards and old movies and video games. Coghill also praised his loyal customers who kept buying items to show their support of the business.

Photo by Ben Newell

Shawn Coghill of Madison Buy Sell Trade has seen business boom with customers seeking ways to keep themselves entertained during the pandemic.


Also on Main Street is the Village Lights Bookstore, owned and operated by Nathan Montoya and his wife, Anne Vestuto. Montoya was already fighting an epic foe that has been destroying small bookstores around the nation, Amazon Books. While trying to adhere to the social distancing guidelines and his limited space, Montoya is also fighting another herculean battle – lack of walk in traffic. The object of having a business on Main Street is to have customers coming in off the street. That is now gone because of his new operating procedures.
Village lights is now open by appointment only. To come into the shop, patrons must first call (812) 265-1800 to claim an hour slot. Actually, you get 45 minutes to browse, and Montoya uses the rest of the time to disinfect. He also provides masks and gloves, if requested.
“While people are reading more during the pandemic,” says Montoya, “it’s killing small retailers like us. When people come into a store like ours, they want to handle the books, read the dust cover. It’s a personal experience. I am also missing the interaction I’ve had with my customers. Those conversations about books and life in general are now very limited.”

Photo by Ben Newell

Nathan Montoya of Village Lights Bookstore is still open by appointment has seen strong demand for books during the pandemic.

 


“About the only good thing has been happening is the action on our website,” Montoya said. “I have had some very faithful customers use that tool to keep purchasing books. And I have had some people around the country that – and I have no idea how they came across us – have made a special effort to help out this local bookstore. It’s a lot more work for us to sell online, but we appreciate the business.”

If you’re walking past the store and you realize that you would like to buy a book, don’t hesitate to call the number on the door and set up an appointment, Montoya says. You may even luck out and find the present time slot is open and, if so, Montoya will gladly usher you in.

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