Coronavirus Impact: Burlingame mom and pop shops reinvent themselves to survive COVID-19 pandemic

BURLINGAME, Calif. (KGO) -- Small, family-run retail shops in the Bay Area continue to struggle with many not qualifying for Gov. Gavin Newsom's Phase 2 plan to reopen.

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Some say it's do-or-die time for them with no revenue coming in.
Small shops for a long time shunned selling online. They considered themselves boutiques or specialty stores with a special niche. On the Peninsula, some store owners have figured out what they think is a way to beat Amazon at its own game.

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Some restrictions have been eased, bringing a little life back to places like Broadway Burlingame. But closed signs remain posted at many others. It has been 53 days of zero sales at Nuts for Candy, owned by John Kevranian and his wife.

"We have to make the change to survive," Kevranian said. "And it's essential that we all retailers work together to see what's best for our community."

Rather than perish, Kevranian has decided to start selling online on a marketplace site called LiveShopInc.com, which is offering delivery in as fast as 20 minutes to compete against giant e-tailers, such as Amazon.

"What can we do to replicate this experience but do it for local shops, for the families and friends we know, for the city we care about, for the community we care about?" asked LiveShop founder and CEO Patrick Plawner.

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Plawner spent two days talking to Uber and Lyft drivers, discovering how many embraced the idea of making local deliveries over dealing with ride share passengers. His platform showcases local merchants that can fill orders immediately. The sales tax revenue benefits the city of Burlingame while saving a merchant with zero sales.

"I believe the next several months it will be about 25 percent of our sales, and it will grow," said Kevranian.

And for now, LiveShop is waiving its commission to give small businesses the jump start they need.

However, that's not the only way family-run stores are re-inventing themselves.

On the same street, Pot-Pourri, a gift shop in business over 50 years, also closed since mid-March, has started selling over Zoom.

"We do have to show everything and get it in a camera frame, but you know, it allows us to get to know the customer better, what they like, what they're looking for," said owner Chris Diez.

Customers have adjusted to buying arts and crafts, jewelry and accessories without touching or trying them on, trusting what they see on camera and getting feedback from the owner. Diez sees this as a long-term solution among shoppers reluctant to visit his shop in person, even when restrictions are eased or lifted.

Merchants are also hoping the Burlingame city council will consider closing streets to set up outdoor tables and chairs to entice shoppers.

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