A small Northwest Virginia town stays committed to small business and healthy strategies
FRONT ROYAL-Tourists have flocked to Front Royal for decades, drawn by its small-town Southern sensibility. Known as the northern entrance to Skyline Drive and the Canoe Capital of Virginia, visitors play a part in the economy. The town is also known for its love of Christmas. But how do you keep traditions going during a pandemic?
The town has been “battle-tested,” according to Nikki Foster, Front Royal Chamber of Commerce president. Figuring out to carry on Christmas traditions in the face of COVID-19 is part of its DNA, she said.
“COVID-19 has forced our local businesses to be creative and look for unique ways to serve their customers,” Foster said. “Many of our small businesses have begun curbside pickups, by appointment shopping, website ordering, shipping, and gift card programs. I am impressed and encouraged by how they are meeting the challenges of this pandemic.”
Making Traditions Work During COVID-19
Rick Novak, owner and manager of the local movie theater, Royal Cinema, has offered free Christmas Classic movies every year in the past. This year, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to afford it. Then a number of local businesses and community groups stepped in to make it happen. It’ll be a little less crowded, thanks to social distancing. Seating will be at 50% capacity.
“Despite the loss of 70% of our income this year, we were determined to offer our free Christmas Classics,” Novak said. “On Saturdays and Sundays, starting December 12-13 through December 19-20, we are featuring free Christmas classic movies in our main auditorium.”
Pretty much everyone knows at least one of these stories. For the first week of December, it was “Polar Express.” This weekend, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman” and several other tv shows pop up on screen. Next week, the theater will show “White Christmas.”
Another tradition that was changed due to COVID-19 is the town’s annual Christmas parade. Held on Dec. 5, town officials adjusted the route to a much larger street, in order to accommodate social distancing.
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CARES Act Helps Local Companies
The Chamber is using social media to remind the public this year, more than ever, shopping locally is important. They’ve created a Shop Local Holiday Guide on their website.
In addition, some local businesses got help through the CARES Act funding. Now it wasn’t as simple as walking in and walking out with money. To quality, you needed to have a company with annual revenues between $15,000 and $2 million. You also needed to be able to demonstrate a reduction in your company’s revenue due to COVID-19. Those that met the requirements could get federal grant funding. Overall for Warren County and Front Royal, the funds helped 106 local businesses, with $1,276,558 spent.
Partnerships And Co-Marketing
Mike Lock, a recent Front Royal transplant and owner of Play Favorites, a local toy store specializing in games, says he enjoys the small town atmosphere, but admits so far the holiday season has been challenging.
“Relative to other toy stores that I’ve had in the past, this holiday season has certainly been slow. Part of this of course is due to Play Favorites being such a new store: We only opened in mid-September of this year, so even in normal circumstances that is hardly enough time to build up a ton of awareness and holiday-traffic steam. That said, the response from the community has been extremely enthusiastic, and word of mouth from our customers and other small business owners has been tremendously supportive, for which we are extremely grateful.”
Lock describes ways he and other local businesses have created to increase their customer traffic, “In order to keep ourselves afloat in these challenging times, we are coordinating with one another by running cross-store shopping promotions. For example, Play Favorites has teamed up with Better Thymes, a health food store, to run a ‘Sound of Body, Sound of Mind’ promotion. Spending a certain amount in one of our stores results in a gift card to spend in the other.”
Some Say Politics Gets In The Way
But some businesses are concerned about how the uptick in COVID infections in the state and the reality of national politics will affect their company. As of Dec. 10, Virginia had a 3,915 case increase over a 24-hour period. And while that’s serious, the company is also concerned about politics.
“This holiday season is very different from the past 17 years of our family-owned business,” said Stacy Gedney. She owns the Element restaurant with her husband David. “(We have) limited seating, wearing masks and our numbers began dropping with the newly elected President Biden. We had done very well this summer and fall but notice a great decline when Dr. Fauci speaks about not visiting restaurants and bars. We are very cautious with cleaning and being on top of all current protocols.”
Foster says overall, the Front Royal community is open for business.
“Our local businesses are compliant with all COVID guidelines and many businesses are offering several ways to shop. We have a variety of unique businesses that offer unlimited options for holiday shopping from gift cards to personalized items, we have it all.”
Jackie Fishman is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.