Edmond Businesses Adjusting to ‘Safer-At-Home’ Order

Essential businesses in Edmond are changing how they operate as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the market.

Cindy Ulecht and Janet McDonald, co-owners of The Gourmet Gallery, are considered an essential business, in that they offer a good or service, that is deemed necessary by federal guidelines.

“We send out a letter through social media to keep customers informed and letting them know we are still open, just with some changes like not allowing a lot of people in the store, just one or two at a time,” McDonald said. “We are a food store, so people are expecting to be able to get their regular items that they shop for in our store.”

They have recently added some offerings to their store, located at 3325 S. Boulevard, Suite 107 in Edmond, in hopes to better serve their customers needs during this time.

“We are now selling premade meals from Prairie Gypsies, a catering company in Oklahoma City,” McDonald said.

In order to sell these meals, Ulecht and McDonald had to apply for a license and were able to get fast-tracked through the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

“In addition to their meals, we have soups, salads, individual entrees, desserts, coffee and dips and a wide variety of things,” Ulecht said. “The meals have been a big success.”

Despite that success, overall Ulecht said there has been a noticeable drop-off in customers.

A recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business shows that 76 percent of small businesses have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ulecht and McDonald’s business is a part of that majority, but they have not had to cut hours or make any other staffing adjustments.

“Including Janet and I, we work in the store all the time, but we have two full-time employees who are still there, so we have not had to let anybody go, and we hope we are able to keep everyone,” Ulecht said.

The decreased foot traffic in the store has shifted some of their sales focus, however.

“We are doing curbside, and [customers] can pay with a card, then we will take their purchase out to them,” Ulecht said. “We also have a delivery service, and we can ship products. In fact, we had a corporate customer in another state who ordered 80 care packages to be sent to her employees who are all working from home.”

Ulecht said they have always had an internet presence in their 19 years of operation and quite a few customers order by phone and email.

“We send out a letter once a week, usually on Mondays, to let customers know what we do have and what we can offer them,” Ulecht said.

While some businesses might be having issues getting certain products during the COVID-19 pandemic, McDonald said they have had no issues up to this point with their supply chain.

“Our wholesalers are fully stocked,” McDonald said. “Some of our suppliers sell to gift stores that may have had to close during all of this, but since we are considered a food store, we are able to be open, but we don’t sell toilet paper or anything like that.”

For those that do want to come shop in person, Ulecht said they are being very cautious.

“When we get there in the morning, we Lysol clean door handles and things and continue to do that after every customer throughout the day,” Ulecht said.

Operating during a pandemic likely means an increase in the frequency of cleaning for all types of essential businesses, and for Jill Castilla, president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond, it also means lowering on-site staff and tending to customer needs through new ways.

“Four weeks ago, we lowered to 25 percent of staff working on-site and two weeks ago, we lowered to less than 10 percent,” Castilla said. “We have the same staffing level, but prior technology investments have allowed our team to be able to support our customers and bank operations remotely for all but drive-thru transactions.”

Citizens Bank of Edmond closed their lobby to the public almost two weeks ago and reduced their drive-thru hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We’re fortunate that the bank invented technology that allows for small businesses to register to have 24/7 access to cash and coin through our remote electronic banking facility,” Castilla said.

As of now, the lobby is available to the bank’s customers by appointment, which usually is on Wednesdays. They also facilitate video conferences with customers to help remotely during normal business hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

“Accounts can be opened online and we have high utilization of the bank’s mobile and internet banking platforms,” Castilla said. “Our Interactive Teller Machines have been available in our bank lobby for over a year now and available in Midtown for over two years and we are also working to get an exterior ITM installed at the corner of Hurd and Broadway — that should be completed in early May.”

Amid the pandemic, Castilla places a high value on transparency and communication through social media and other channels.

“I frequently provide my cell number to be available for texts, I also get dozens of direct messages each day on social media platforms with small businesses and impacted individuals needing clarification of programs available to help,” Castilla said.

Castilla uses her personal account to promote these programs and provide tips. She said they also recorded several videos to keep the community informed of changes at Citizens Bank and how they can still maintain access to their financial resources.

“We are also actively engaged with our national delegation and agencies to ensure that the programs that are being developed are relative to the need,” Castilla said. “Social media allows you unprecedented access, especially during this crisis, to the decision-makers.”

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