Charles Street Retail Stores Start Phase 2 Reopening

Since Phase 2 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan for reopening the Commonwealth took effect Monday, June 8, Jennifer Hill has enthusiastically welcomed back guests to her longstanding Charles Street gift store, Blackstone’s of Beacon Hill, even if they just come in to browse.

“I know we’re in business to make money, but this is the fun part,” Hill said. “It’s so nice to see the happy faces of people who just want to walk around the store, and even if they don’t buy anything, that’s okay.”

Watchdog Lina standing guard in front of Linens on the Hill.
Jennifer Hill, owner, and Tanisha Gray, store manager, of Blackstone’s of Beacon Hill.

Like other retail stores in the Commonwealth, Blackstone’s can only operate at 40 percent occupancy per state guidelines, and with its 500 square-foot storefront, this means the store can only accommodate a total of five people, which sometimes includes two employees, at any given time.

Blackstone’s has also installed a contactless credit-card terminal and provides gloves and masks to customers as needed, along with hand sanitizer at the counter.

“Some people are still getting used to the routine, but on the whole everyone has been accommodating,” Hill said Friday. “Overall, people have been very courteous and ask if it’s okay to enter. They are just so thrilled to be back in a store.”

Unlike some other retail businesses, Blackstone’s was in a unique situation, since it was allowed to reopen May 8 as part of Phase 1 for curbside and door-side service.  Hill said this helped make the transition to Phase 2 virtually “seamless,” since the store already had the safety protocol outlined by the Center for Disease Control and the state in place.

And so far during Phase 2, business has been brisk for Blackstone’s, which Hill attributes to its extensive selection of hard-to-find products and unique gift ideas.

Lynne Wolverton, owner of Linens on the Hill at 52 Charles St., is pleased she has been able to reopen as part of Phase 2, but said business was somewhat unpredictable during their first week back.

“It’s sort of up and down,” Wolverton said. “Some days there is very little foot traffic and some days it seems almost like normal. Sales aren’t what they were before [the pandemic struck], but I’m still kind of encouraged.”

The reduced occupancy guidelines haven’t affected business too much either, Wolverton said, since even at its busiest before the pandemic struck, no more than a couple of customers were usually inside the store at any given time.

Linens on the Hill has been displaying items for sale on the sidewalk outside the store to entice passersby inside because Wolverton said the business is at a disadvantage since its windows remain boarded up as a precaution against vandalism.

But those who have made it inside the store seem just as happy to see Wolverton as she is to see them.

“I’m encouraged that people seem like they want to get out and shop,” she sad, “and everybody says that they’re happy we’re open.”

Like Blackstone’s, Linens on the Hill has also installed a contactless credit-card terminal and provides hand sanitizer to patrons at the door and the counter.

“People ask if they can come in, and by and large, almost everyone has been very careful and mindful of wearing masks and adhering to social distancing, but we’re hoping for a little more foot traffic,” Wolverton said.

As for Hill, while she looks forward to restrictions being further eased on Blackstone’s, she said, “If this is all we get for a while, it’s okay. It beats the alternative of nothing or going backwards.”

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