KEARNEY — About 17 Kearney retail stores temporarily have closed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but one retailer that’s staying open is pushing curbside pickups and other strategies to adapt to the situation.
“We’re offering a lot of things that people are taking advantage of because we have the games to keep the kids and the families entertained,” said Connie Hoeft, owner of CR Toys in Hilltop Mall.
Hoeft’s business is among the locally owned shops that remain open at Hilltop, where a number of nationally owned businesses closed this week in response to the coronavirus.
They weren’t the only nationally owned stores to close in Kearney.
Parent TJX announced Thursday that it would close all of its Marshalls stores. One of those stores is at 4700 Second Ave. in Kearney.
According to a TJX press release, it also will close its TJ Maxx, HomeGoods and Sierra stores until further notice because of the coronavirus. TJX is shutting down its online businesses, and closing distribution centers and offices.
At Hilltop Mall, Property Manager Scott Ehmke said that as of Friday afternoon about 16 stores had temporarily shut their doors.
The mall also reduced its hours to 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Previously, the hours were 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday hours will stay the same at noon-6 p.m.
Ehmke said the mall adjusted its hours to reflect its tenants’ hours.
“That actually helps cut down on expenses as well, and then also it cuts down on the possibility of spreading any virus,” Ehmke said.
He encourages customers to call individual stores before visiting because many businesses have set their own hours.
Additionally, to keep patrons safe, Ehmke said the mall is taking extra cleaning precautions.
“We’re hitting the doors and disinfecting things every half hour to hour, and keeping up on the bathrooms,” he said.
Ehmke said some stores had decided to temporarily close beginning Tuesday. During the week, other stores followed suit.
Ehmke said that 12 stores — mostly locally and regionally owned — continue to operate.
“We are a platform for them to be successful so we are going to keep our doors open for them to stay open for business,” Ehmke said of the businesses that remain open.
Hoeft, at CR Toys, said she has adjusted to continue serving her customers while keeping them safe.
She and her employees have sanitized products on the show floor and sanitizer sits near her cash register.
Hoeft also recently pulled down the front gate to the store to discourage children from coming in and playing with the toys and games. She said she was worried about children being infected. Adults may come in through a side door.
For people who don’t feel safe coming into her store, Hoeft has pushed online ordering. Customers may pay in advance for shipping, curbside pickup or home delivery. If a customer orders products before 1 p.m., CR Toys employees will deliver to their doorsteps between 1-4 p.m. the same day. Employees then text the customer that their package is on the doorstep.
It’s not business as usual, but Hoeft said her sales have improved because parents are looking for ways to occupy their children during school closures.
“We have our homework helper books that are huge for us,” she said
Hoeft hopes to keep her store open. If for some reason she would be required to close, CR Toys would continue shipping, home delivery and curbside pickup for the sake of its customers and employees.
Hoeft said she wants to keep her two full-time employees.
It’s unknown if Hoeft will need to make additional adjustments or how long some businesses will be closed.
Ehmke said his biggest worry is that he doesn’t know how long the coronavirus pandemic will last.
“This is uncharted waters for a lot of us. So we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Yes, everyone will be up and running again. When that will happen, we’re not for sure.”