LONE TREE, Colorado (AP) – Darcy Velasquez, 42, and her mother, Roberta Truax, recently walked through the Park Meadows shopping center about 15 miles south of downtown Denver, looking for Christmas gifts for the two children of Velasquez, when they spotted a store with a display of rhinestone-adorned masks. .
It’s an enduring fashion truth: Sparkles can go a long way with a 9 year old.
The store is called COVID-19 Essentials. And it could be the country’s first retail chain dedicated solely to an infectious disease, Kaiser Health News reports.
With many U.S. stores shutting down during the coronavirus pandemic, especially in shopping malls, owners of this chain have taken hold of the empty space, along with the growing acceptance around the world that wearing masks is a reality that could last until 2021, if not longer. Masks have gone from being a utilitarian product, whatever you can find that works, to another way to express your personality, political leanings, or sports fanatic.
And the owners of COVID-19 Essentials are betting Americans are willing to put their money where they want. Prices range from $ 19.99 for a simple children’s mask to $ 130 for the premium face cover, with an N95 filter and a battery-powered fan.
Almost every store and many pop-up kiosks in Park Meadows Mall now sell masks. But COVID-19 Essentials offers other pandemic accessories as well, in a space that has a more established feel than a holiday pop-up store; permanent signage above its glass doors includes a stylized image of a coronavirus particle.
Tucked away next to the UNTUCKit shirt store and across from a Tesla showroom, it has neither the brand recognition nor the track record of a JC Penney. But longevity doesn’t seem to have helped this clothing chain or many others escape industry upheaval during the pandemic. According to analysts at S&P Global Market Intelligence, retail bankruptcies between January and mid-August hit a 10-year high.
Not that COVID-19 Essentials owners want their products to always be in demand.
“I can’t wait to go out of business eventually,” said Nadav Benimetzky, a Miami retailer who founded COVID-19 Essentials, which now has eight branches nationwide.
This seemed to be the attitude of most of the customers who walked into the store on a recent Friday afternoon. Most understood the need for masks – masks are required to even enter the mall – and therefore recognized the business case of a COVID-19 store. Still, they hoped the masks would soon go in the direction of bell socks or leggings. At the moment, they are making the most of the situation.
Nathan Chen, who owns the Lone Tree store with Benimetzky, previously ran another store at Denver Airport, but as air travel declined, a COVID-focused business seemed like a much better business. The pandemic gives and the pandemic wins.
Benimetzky opened the first COVID-19 Essentials store in the Aventura Mall in suburban Miami after seeing demand for N95 masks at the start of the pandemic. “They’re ugly and uncomfortable, and everyone hates them,” he says. “I relied on that. If you are wearing a mask, you might as well make it fashionable and pretty.
It could mean a glitter or satin mask for more formal occasions, or the toothy smile of a skull mask for casual affairs. Some masks have zippers for easier eating, or a hole for a straw, with a Velcro closure when the cup is sucked.
The chain has locations in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, and is looking to open stores in California, where wildfires have only increased demand for masks.
At first, the owners weren’t sure the idea was going to fly. They opened the first store as the malls reopened after the closures.
“We really didn’t understand how bad it was going to become,” Benimetzky said. “We didn’t get into the idea of opening a lot of stores. But we got busy from the second we opened.
Nancy Caeti, 76, stopped by the Lone Tree store to buy masks for her grandchildren. She bought one with a clear sign for her granddaughter, whose sign language instructor needs to see her lips move. She bought her daughter, a music teacher and Denver Broncos fan, a mask with the logo of the football team.
“I lived through the polio epidemic,” Caeti said, as her latex-gloved hand inserted her credit card into the card reader. “It reminds me of that, but I don’t think it’s that bad.” She recalled how her mother lined her up with her siblings to get the polio vaccine, and said she would be the first in line for a COVID vaccine.
Perhaps this is the essential that the store does not offer. He peddles key-shaped devices to open doors and press elevator buttons without touching them. Some have a built-in bottle opener. There are ultraviolet light devices for disinfecting phones and a premium hand sanitizer that employees spray on customers as if it were a sample of department store perfume.
But the masks are the biggest draw. The store can personalize them with rhinestone letters or the kind of iron-on patches that teens once wore on their jeans.
At the entrance, customers can check their temperature with a digital front-facing scanner with audible indications: “Come closer. Come closer. Normal temperature. Normal temperature. “
The store also added a sink near the entrance so customers can wash their hands before handling merchandise.
Some mall merchants walk past the store, bewildered, stopping to take pictures and post them on social media with a message you don’t care about. An older white couple wearing matching masks noticed a mask emblazoned with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” in the storefront and left in disgust.
The store does not take any political party; There are three models of President Donald Trump’s campaign masks, two for the Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. A woman, who declined to give her name, arrived wearing a mask under her nose and wondered if a Trump mask would suit her tiny face. Trump masks are among the most popular sellers, Chen said, so he keeps them in a larger cabinet to accommodate the extra stock. It is not known if this will predict election results, as some have postulated with the sales of Halloween masks.
Daniel Gurule, 31, stopped by the mall at lunchtime to buy an Apple Watch, but ventured into the store for a new mask. He said he normally wore a ventilated mask but not all places allowed it. (They protect users but not the people around them.) He bought a mask for $ 24.99 with the Denver Nuggets basketball team logo on it.
“It takes away a bit of our personality when everyone is walking around in disposable masks,” Chen said. “It looks like a hospital, like everyone is sick.”
Most masks are sewn specifically for the chain, many of them by hand. One of their suppliers is a family of Vietnamese immigrants who sew masks at their home in Los Angeles, Benimetzky said. Chen said it was difficult to keep masks in stock, and every day it seemed like another model was becoming their bestseller.
Dorothy Lovett, 80, stopped in front of the store, leaning on a cane with an animal motif.
“I had to step back and say, ‘What is this? “, She says. “I’ve never seen a mask shop before.”
By MARKIAN HAWRYLUK
(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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