At Cordova Gear, personal shopper service courtesy of COVID

Customers are able to browse Cordova Gear’s inventory without entering the store. (July 14, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

For Natasha Casciano, owner of Cordova Gear, keeping her store open throughout the coronavirus pandemic was just half the battle — the store had to look open as well. Despite offering curbside and delivery service, Casciano found that, as long as Cordova Gear’s door was closed, community members were inclined to view the business as closed also.

“We found that shutting our doors was pushing customers away,” Casciano said. “They felt like we were closed down.”

Though business has dropped off overall, demand for bicycle repairs has remained strong. Casciano, a certified bicycle mechanic, implemented a strict procedure to disinfect bicycles when they were received and when they were returned to their owners. As local public health restrictions were lifted, Cordova Gear briefly reopened, allowing one single-household group at a time to enter the store. However, an early-July spike in local virus cases convinced Casciano to close Cordova Gear to foot traffic once more.

July 11, Casciano tried something new: reopening Cordova Gear’s doors and acting as a personal shopper for customers who sit outside the entrance but do not come into the store. With a thorough command of Cordova Gear’s inventory, Casciano is able to bring customers a selection of boots, water bottles, bicycle paraphernalia or other items to peruse — without touching, of course. A pair of signs affixed to the floor remind customers, and staff, to keep a 6-foot distance when possible. Casciano hopes this system will allow COVID-cautious shoppers to feel comfortable visiting the store, she said.

Cordova Gear has so far avoided laying off any of its employees, and Casciano remains optimistic about the future. Casciano said she supported the city of Cordova’s cautious response to the pandemic.

“Nobody knows, and erring on the side of caution is a very wise thing,” Casciano said. “People who are in the age group that is more likely to have dire consequences — it’s really important for us to protect those people… Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day or the next year, so we have to find a way to continue to do what we do.”