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Local businesses battle COVID-19

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

When the coronavirus hit in March, local business owners had to change how they operated; everything, from how they greeted customers, to the services they offered, to how they set up their stores had been impacted. COVID-19 gave each business owner an unforeseen challenge to work around. In the months since the initial shutdown, many of Medfield's local businesses have adapted swimmingly.

Since March, residents have been spending a lot more time in their homes; they’ve worked from home, learned from home, done a plethora of Zoom calls from home. It’s definitely not a surprise, then, that people have discovered what they love and don’t love about their homes. For real estate agents, it means a brand new market. When the shutdown started in March, real estate was not listed as an essential service. A month later, Governor Baker changed real estate’s categorization to essential. While the office was closed, agents at BHHS Page Realty were busy at home, ensuring that operations continued, even away from their desks. What was once a service the depended on in-person participation quickly became doable with a few clicks on the computer. Open houses, for instance, were presented on Facebook Live. In-person showings were done when they could be, in vacant properties and new constructions, thus avoiding risk of transmitting the virus. Realtors were prepared, armed with disinfecting wipes, masks, and even pens wrapped in plastic sleeves so that potential buyers could safely view properties. By June, people seemed to be even more interested in buying and selling, leading to an uptick in sales and a starting recovery of the real estate market. “We’re very grateful that no one in our company has gotten sick, none of clients have gotten sick. So we’re continuing to maintain our very strict protocols,” explains Ellen Rao, owner of BHHS Page Realty.

Blue Moon Bagel Cafe is a staple in Medfield. Middle school and high school students often go to the bakery on the first day of school to usher in the new year with a sit-down breakfast. While the indoor seating area is still shut down, but the bakery is anything but closed. Each day, staff makes a variety of bread, bagels, muffins, cakes, and other treats that draw in potential customers and make veterans return for more. Like every eatery, though, Blue Moon’s owners needed to make some changes to ensure the safety of patrons and staff. “We originally only did curbside pickups, so someone would call, place an order, and we would have to bring it outside,” said owner Daniel Freedman. As a result, the bakery added more phone lines to handle the additional influx of calls. Next came pandemic-proofing the store with social distancing markers and plexiglass dividers, and retraining staff on proper food-handling and mask-wearing practices. “Then we were slowly able to introduce people into our store.” Since reopening, the number and types of products Blue Moon sells has somewhat changed, and so has the equipment the bakery uses. While the number of event cakes is significantly down, the amount of bread being sold is up. With 15 different types of  artisan breads being baked each day, it isn’t shocking that the cafe had an equipment update during the pandemic. “We had to get a new oven in order to keep up with the  amount of bread sales and make the bread that I wanted to produce,” said Freedman. Customers who return to Blue Moon will find that the look of the store may have changed, but its delicious products have not. 

Just a couple minutes away is the Butterfly Tree Boutique. Throughout the year, customers pop into the store for jewelry, clothes, home decor, and gifts. In March, the doors temporarily shut, like those of many other businesses. During the closure, owner Maria Piedra kept up with customers via social media, email, phone, and text. Unable to let people into the store, the Butterfly Tree adopted curbside pickup and delivery as a way of encouraging customers to continue shopping. Piedra also took time during the closure to reimagine and rethink how the store was run. "There was a lot of uncertainty. How long is this going to last? When we do reopen, are people going to want to come into the store? Are customers going to want the same sort of products? How are the shopping habits changing?" said Piedra. Now, when customers visit the Butterfly Tree, they will notice a few product stands and shelves have been shifted, as well as a new plastic barrier separating customers and cashiers during checkout. Additionally, Piedra is rolling out a flex space for patrons to rent out, which will host artisans, along with classes that focus on creative endeavors. "We're still rolling this out. There's a lot of different ideas that we have in development … working with some really great artisans and creative people who want to hold a class," she explained. While this time hasn't been easy for anyone, Piedra is looking at it positively. "The symbolism of the caterpillar going into the cocoon and reemerging transformed is where the Butterfly Tree got its name," explained Piedra. "We're transforming once again to stay fresh and relevant with the world."

In 1918, the Spanish Flu hit the world and caused chaos that was eerily similar to that created by COVID-19. While very few people are still alive from that time, Lovell’s Florist, Greenhouse, & Nursery sits on the same spot as Pederzini and Sons Florist, which itself endured through a pandemic over a century ago. Though the business, ownership, and name have all changed, the idea seems to be the same as it was back then: during a pandemic, the outdoors is the best place to be. Due to the business' size, it was easy for customers to social distance during visits, with a few precautions taken to ensure their safety. With the ability to reopen almost immediately after the shutdown began, Lovell’s has become a go-to locale for individuals doing gardening and yard work during these summer months. “Vegetables and herb plants were the biggest thing. We have four or five seed racks. We used to sell a couple hundred here and a couple hundred there. This year we sold every single seed on the seed rack,” said owner Laverne Lovell. Among other popular items were bags of soil. “Some people bought 20, 30, 40 bags at a time, and that’s unheard of. We’ve never done that before,” said Lovell. There were a few challenges to overcome, both in terms of customer requests for curbside delivery and supply issues. Amidst heightened demand for flower arrangements, two of the floral suppliers Lovell’s uses closed, forcing Laverne to quickly find a new supplier to keep up with the demand. Though it was a busy season with a plethora of challenges, Lovell’s has remained as strong as ever. “It was excellent and difficult - and it was everything all-rolled into one,” says Lovell.

COVID-19 may be far from over and precautions should taken while visiting any of these local businesses. But behind the masks and heightened safety measures, the same smiling faces are still there to answer any questions, give advice, and serve their community, the same way they always have.

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