Businesses working hard to meet customer needs

Claire Lynch, of McAlister’s Deli in Brownwood, brings food orders to customers for takeout in front of the restaurant Tuesday.

Curbside service isn’t just for dinner anymore. From home goods to hair product to paint to art décor, retailers in The Villages have increasingly turned to the act of loading goods into customers’ cars — or golf carts — as a way to keep business moving amid restrictions in place to deal with the COVID-19 threat. Businesses are rallying in innovative ways to keep serving the community in light of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ instructions for all residents over age 65, and those with underlying health conditions, to shelter at home for the next

14 days. “Life goes on even through a crazy time like this,” said Christine Chaloupka, owner of Lime Light Boutique in Lake Sumter Landing and Christine’s in Brownwood. “There’s still birthdays, there’s still graduations, there’s still babies being born.” President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he hopes to have the country “opened up” by Easter — Sunday, April 12 — his most concrete goal to date for easing off restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, people still need to get hair cuts and cars serviced. Projects that had been on the back burner are getting attention as Villagers spend more time on the home front.

“If people are going to be confined to their homes, a lot of them are going to do projects,” said Daniel Fields, a manager at the Sherwin-Williams Paint Store at Lake Sumter Landing.

By bringing paint and supplies out to customers, he said, it helps keep the number of people inside the store to 10 or fewer in keeping with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The limit on group gatherings is affecting businesses nearly across the board, most notably with the loss of dining rooms at restaurants. But also it has forced other proprietors to take a look at their workflow.

“We’re staggering hairdressers, just three or four in one day,” said Annette Frederick, owner of Hair & Nail Creations in Freedom Plaza. “We’ve had to reschedule a lot, but it’s fine with me. It’s keeping my salon under the 10-person level.”

Restaurants

With Friday’s order prohibiting on-site dining, restaurants have had little choice but to turn to takeout and delivery to serve customers.

“We’re just trying to get some delivery orders and try to keep on moving,” said Beth Parker, office manager at La Hacienda Catering, which is joining the delivery trend while large parties are on hold.

La Hacienda currently offers delivery three days a week, with customers able to choose from a set menu featuring five entrees and three soups. The menu will change from week to week. All meals are delivered cold for reheating.

“People can just order a meal for two that they can reheat and eat at their leisure,” Parker said.

By getting 40 or 50 orders for a single entree, she added, “we’re doing it in a way that’s in our wheelhouse. Our staff knows how to make chicken for 40 or 50 people.”

Orders can go anywhere in The Villages — or even to Stonecrest or Spruce Creek — and delivery is free for any order of $25 or more.

David Suleiman, whose family operates restaurants at Havana and Lopez Legacy country clubs, said his establishments are offering a menu from their pool bar and grill.

“We’re slashing a lot of prices — almost in half on a lot of items,” said Suleiman. That includes cocktails in sealed containers and bottles of wine.

“We know people are at home with not a lot to do,” he said. “We’re trying to help them enjoy the experience.”​

At Cattail Recreation Area, the food trucks have undergone a slight change as Rita’s Cocina Mexicana has vacated for a week or so to perform maintenance during the slowdown. A new food truck, Chuck’s Wagon, from the Brownwood Hotel & Spa will temporarily fill the space.

Ednas’ on the Green continues to operate with the same food menu, said owner Jordan McDonough. Beverage options have changed slightly, allowing only those that can easily be taken home.

Hair salons

Not only is Frederick staggering her stylists’ shifts, she spent Monday calling every appointment on the books to ask if any of them had traveled in the past 14 days and whether they’ve been exposed to any illness — even the common cold.

“If they have, we’re not serving them,” Frederick said. “They understand; they’re not upset. They’ve been so honest, and that’s the greatest thing for me. It gives everyone peace of mind.”

At Cal’s Barber Shop, owner Vickie Langford said all four of her locations are running on a skeleton staff as they juggle limits on groups and a spate of cancellations.

“We’re trying to keep it to four or five stylists, so we don’t have too many people in the building at one time,” she said. “And they’re all spaced out.”

Salons already have their own sanitation regulations, so proprietors are simply being more vigilant about following those rules to the limit.

“That credit-card machine has never looked so brand new in its life,” Frederick said.

Auto repair

Sanitation might be the biggest issue for technicians, as they drive cars into the bays and sometimes have to lean in underneath the dashboard.

“We’re just making sure we’re staying clean,” said Jason Accurso, owner of Accurso Auto Repair on County Road 466. “We’re washing our hands all the time. Our technicians are putting on gloves to get into the vehicles.”

At Tire Choice off County Road 466, manager Ed Berrios said they’re taking extra caution to space out appointments to keep the waiting room under 10 people.

“We’re trying to make sure we fit everybody in,” he said, “but we’ve scheduled it out the best we can.”

Accurso noted auto repair is classified as an “essential service,” so they will keep at least one technician on duty during business hours.

“We don’t have as many cars on the road now, so that’s a good thing,” he said. “But we need to be here for people that need to get to the grocery store or to their doctor.”

Boutiques

Several shopkeepers have turned to virtual shopping, taking pictures of their items and sharing them via email or Facebook.

“I’ve had quite a few sales,” said Sandy Sweeny, owner of Gilded Matilda’s in Wildwood, who began Monday with about 20 items on her Facebook page. “People are responding online, asking questions. It’s keeping the revenue going.”

Customers can either pick up their merchandise at Gilded Matilda’s or have it shipped, Sweeny said. Rustic Rose Fashion Boutique and Rustic Rose Home Decor, located in Brownwood Paddock Square, are doing likewise.

Chaloupka also is offering the option for her customers at Lime Light and Christine’s, and even is willing to open the shop to individual shoppers either before or after hours.

“Whatever they need, I will be there for them,” Chaloupka said. “My whole thing — at least for now — making the decision to stay open is to be there because my customers are like my friends and family. I want to be there for them if they need something.”

Funeral services

With the new limitations on group gatherings, Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services has joined a number of other facilities in livestreaming services via Facebook or web conferencing.

“It does allow a public ceremony to still take place,” said vice president Justin Baxley. “So far the response has been very positive. Most families realize we’re all in this together.”

One advantage to livestreaming, he added, was that people who may not have been able to travel to The Villages for the service can still attend. One livestream event, he said, drew nearly 200 people to the broadcast.

Families that still want to say goodbye in a larger group can opt to hold a public memorial service in a few months, when the restrictions are lifted.

Hiers-Baxley also started a “Rose in Place” program, in which people can call the funeral home with their condolences and have it attached to a rose that will be placed in the room holding the ceremony.

“It’s a rose in place of physical presence,” said Baxley. “It’s definitely getting a positive response. With livestreaming, it’s a largely empty room. The physical presence of those roses makes it something a little more special.”

Financial services

At Parady Financial Group, all meetings are taking place at its offices on County Road 466A near Morse Boulevard. The company’s Brownwood location is closed.

“We have to at least operate in some fashion because the clients need help,” said managing partner Cindy Reed.

After each client meeting, the office is sanitized, Reed said, and a commercial cleaner has been coming in every night as well to disinfect and sanitize the entire location. The company also is offering virtual meetings for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable meeting face to face.

Stephens & Associates, meanwhile, is approaching it from the other direction — all meetings now are virtual or via phone unless the client insists on meeting across a table.

“We can do screen sharing,” said Michael Stephens, associate financial adviser and operations director. “We can accomplish everything we need to accomplish. We’re fortunate we work in a business where we can do that.”