‘Back to Basics’ at Chelsea Market

Some stores and stalls found new opportunities amid the lockdown, others saw business come to a halt

18 Jun 2020 | 03:20

Like most businesses around the country, many of the stores and stalls nestled inside Chelsea Market closed on March 16 with no apparent reopening date in sight. But after three months in lockdown and with Phase Two of the city’s reopening plan on the horizon, some of the market’s businesses are starting to ramp up their operations and preparing to welcome customers back onto their floors.

One of those businesses is Imports from Marrakesh, specializing in handmade Moroccan home and garden goods. Primarily a brick-and-mortar store, Imports from Marrakesh hadn’t seen customers in months but had just recently started taking phone orders for pickup at their warehouse and listing some of their inventory for sale on Instagram.

“We have a nice group of followers who know us,” said Stephanie Rudloe, vice president of Imports from Marrakesh. “We’re actually starting to have people reach out to us, checking in or feeling ready to get things in their homes again.”

Walk-up Orders

Some businesses have had to get creative to continue serving customers. For The Lobster Place, a seafood restaurant and wholesaler, a small back window in their Chelsea Market restaurant space ended up being their saving grace as it allowed them to continue taking walk-up orders after the Market’s concourse closed. Director of Operations Davis Herron explained that though The Lobster Place had to pare down their menu to allow for orders to be handed through the window, response from their customers had been overwhelmingly positive.

“People seem tired of e-commerce,” Herron said. “Our clientele [were] excited that we’re back and excited to engage with us.”

Along with the restaurant business, Herron explained that The Lobster Place had also been designated as an essential business as they are a fish supplier as well.

Others haven’t been as lucky. For Kevin Touhy, founder of the expert leather care store The Shoeshine Guild, business has all but slowed to a halt as customers aren’t traveling much anymore and can no longer enter the Market’s concourse. Though he anticipates customers will soon be able to drop off their shoes for a shine, Touhy says his customers will miss out on the full experience.

“Our business is a very social business, kind of like a bartender,” Touhy said. “People sit down and have a drink. We have a little banter and fun, and it’s going to be a little different because it’s not going to be interactive.”

“Think Like Entrepreneurs”

Despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic, some businesses have found new opportunities amid closures. Though Big Mozz founder Matt Gallira had to cancel most of the events he was planning to attend around the country, he found a novel way to continue running one of his most popular services while his Chelsea Market cheese bar is closed.

“We’ve moved our mozzarella-making classes online,” Gallira said. “We have started shipping all the material to our customers.”

Gallira says the main goal in moving the classes online was to keep Big Mozz’s local dairy farm in operation by shipping the mozzarella-making materials to customers. But Gallira was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive feedback on the classes.

“We have a 40-foot bar at Chelsea Market, and we see about 18 people in that class,” Gallira said. “We’ve been doing really big corporate groups and private events [online], and then we have a public class every Friday night. We’re actually doing a class with a media company next week and they have 160 people joining the class.”

Big Mozz isn’t just running online classes. Though he doesn’t know if he’ll be catering events anytime soon, Gallira is using the downtime to prepare for the future by building food trucks for catering events. But though Big Mozz is seeing unexpected success, Gallira echoed the sentiments felt by Rudloe, Herron and Touhy.

“We’re trying to adapt as best we can and think like entrepreneurs, and get back to the basics,” Gallira said. “We have to figure out how to connect with our customers because that’s the most difficult thing to do right now.”

“People seem tired of e-commerce. Our clientele [were] excited that we’re back and excited to engage with us.” Davis Herron, director of operations, Lobster Place