Long before Gov. John Bel Edwards' stay-at-home order started to be eased, books from the Conundrum were brought, gifts from Grandmother’s Buttons were given, and world-class meals from Circa 1796 were purchased. At a moment of frailty, St. Francisville was strong.
St. Francisville Strong, started when most nonessential businesses were shuttered, offered website to browse local businesses and buy gift certificates that could be used when those businesses opened up again.
“The initiative was started as an idea to support any of the local shops, restaurants, accommodations or attractions who wanted to participate,” said Laurie Walsh, director of St. Francisville Main Street program.
The effort was the brainchild of Walsh and local businessman Johnny Patrick. It was a joint effort between St. Francisville Main Street and the Merchant’s Association.
“We created St. Francisville Strong as a one-stop shop for people to purchase gift certificates as a way to help the businesses now and use later,” Walsh said. “We wanted to be able to give 100% of the purchased gift certificate amount back to the businesses; so, we also sold T-shirts and decals with the proceeds from these two items going to pay processing and mailing fees.”
The business revenue during the shutdown was appreciated, but Susan Davis, owner of Grandmother’s Buttons, was touched by the support and concern.
“It just meant so much,” she said. “We are such a small community and you feel that they wanted to support the business and when the St. Francisville Strong program came out and they actually had an avenue to support and I think people really flocked to it. At a time when we were all along and not talking to people, to see those social media posts and know what was going on behind the scenes really meant so much.”
Grandmother’s Buttons is now open each day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We switched it to four because everyday people were coming in and we were staying late,” Davis said. “It’s been good because we have had a small, but steady stream of people coming in so there’s never been a question of having a line because there were more than eight people in the store. So, it’s just been perfect.”
The new routine and operations include a welcome-back station outside the front door with disposable masks and hand sanitizer.
“We are requiring the use of masks and I don’t mind saying that because it’s for the safety of my employees,” Davis said. “I really feel strongly about that. Our employees are coming back on the front line and if the customer wears a mask and we wear masks, it reduces — it’s not foolproof — but it reduces the chance of either of them getting sick.”
Masks are becoming a fashion statement at Grandmother’s Buttons. Locally made masks are sold in the store, including those made from a button fabric by Staci Beauchamp and those made from vintage fabrics by Carol Ridenour. Ridenour, a retired OB-GYN, has a line of purses and other items crafted out of vintage fabrics and she is now adding face masks to her offerings.
Some businesses needed days or weeks to be ready to reopen. Morgan Moss, proprietor of The Myrtles Plantation and Circa 1796 restaurant, was found days before opening in the restaurant’s kitchen with his full crew.
Circa 1796 was closed during the state’s stay-at-home period, but supporters were able to buy gift certificates through the St. Francisville Strong initiative.
“We sold some gift cards and it’s been great,” Moss said. “We are blessed to live in a community with people that care enough to do stuff like that and put those types of initiatives together.”
Starting Friday, the restaurant was focused on their dinner service from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday with a lunch shift on Saturday. Moss plans to keep that schedule in place until June 1, then reevaluate. But fans of Circa can still stock on dinner outings.
“They are buying gift cards they will be able to use whenever,” he said.
Missy Couhig, owner of Conundrum Book Store, said St. Francisville Strong helped her business get the message out there so a lot more people knew that they were there and had shopping options available.
“The greatest surprise of all was the first time I went to the post office and opened an envelope and there was a check inside for gift certificates that I didn’t even know had been sold,” she said.
Couhig has a table set up facing the opened front opening so shoppers can peruse current bestsellers without going inside of the bookstore. She can invoice and take electronic payments so there is even less contact. Initial opening hours will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Couhig said St. Francisville strong raised both revenue and morale.
“It was a nice surprise on a day that you are feeling down in the dumps and you don’t know when your business is going to open to suddenly have a check in the mail,” she said.