PUNTA GORDA — If not for the devotion of their customers, some local boutique owners say they wouldn’t have made it this far through the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re down by 70% since last year,” said Judy Damron, owner of Giuditta’s Finale, a woman’s apparel boutique at 522 Nesbit St. in Punta Gorda.
Damron has worked in the local retail business for around 40 years in the Punta Gorda area.
“What we’ve been doing is calling our customers up to see if they want us to deliver something to them (for them) to try on,” Damron said. “I’ve been mailing packages to my customers up north (and around Southwest Florida).”
Damron said her son has even delivered packages to customers in Fort Myers “and other places.”
“He’d put the packages on their porch. They could try them on and see what they wanted and send the rest back,” Damron continued. “It was our only way of trying to survive. We have very devoted customers.”
Damron had to close her doors in March due to the coronavirus shutdowns.
When she reopened in May, it was a slow start partly due to the fact that many customers were still concerned about the virus and interacting with others.
“One thing that I did that probably nobody else has done is that I gave the door code to some of my very best customers,” Damron said. “Nobody had been in here to contaminate anything and (we) had cleaned everything down and told them they could come in and shop on their own with no one here.”
Damron said they had two or three groups that came in and shopped this way.
“It’s just anything that you can try to do to pay the bills because we had no busy season,” Damron said.
Going forward, Damron said, everything remains in question, but she has faith in their customers.
“I’m not one to ever stop,” Damron said. “I’ve worked 60 to 80 hours a week for around 50 years or so. I feel like our customers want the experience of shopping ... our really good customers, too.”
Damron said she and her employees wear masks and ask their customers to do the same and follow the state’s safety protocols.
HipNotique Boutique, Downtown Punta Gorda
HipNotique Boutique (111 W. Marion Ave.) in Downtown Punta Gorda kept their business going through online orders during the shutdown.
With their doors back open, owner Debi Malinoski has nothing but praise for their customers.
“We have been blessed with loyal customers thus far and are doing our best to keep our doors open,” Malinoski said.
Jeannie Ann, of HipNotique, said they’ve noticed an increase in sales since reopening in May.
“I think people have been coming out and are ready to spend some money since they are allowed out of the house a little bit more ... since things have lightened up,” Ann said. “We have a great local customer base that has been keeping us going.”
The Ruby Slipper & More, Fishermen’s Village
Nichole and Jeff Anderson own three boutiques at Fishermen’s Village (1200 W. Retta Esplanade) in Punta Gorda — The Ruby Slipper, Palms on the Pier and Nichole’s Collections.
Jeff said that while they created a website to introduce online sales for The Ruby Slipper (only) during the quarantine, they were not able to bring in a lot of sales before reopening in May.
“We did very little during quarantine because we are more of a brick and mortar (company),” Jeff said, “... serving customers the best way we know how through customer service.”
Nichole said they have done a variety of Facebook promotions but that physical shopping is still the main attraction for their boutiques.
“Our customer base is one that likes shopping because they want the physical experience and the socialization and finding out where the merchandise is from,” Nichole said. “They are used to us guiding them in their purchase and how items fit and where they are from. You don’t get that interaction buying online.”
Both Nichole and Jeff agreed that it is going to be challenging going forward because people are still afraid to go out and shop due to coronavirus concerns.
“We’ll have to figure it out as we go,” Jeff said.
Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce
Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce President John Wright said the chamber is active in giving support to their business members, area residents and visitors alike.
Damron’s Giuditta’s Finale is not involved with the Punta Gorda Chamber; however, both HipNotique and the Andersons’ three stores are members.
“Small business is the backbone of our community,” Wright said, “the go-to people who employ locals and support local nonprofit initiatives. They offer variety, quality and personal service, which many buyers both respect and enjoy.”