Lawrence art supply and stationery store Wonder Fair created unique and artistic ways to connect with customers while keeping them safe during the coronavirus pandemic, and continue to do so now that the store is open.
Although many Lawrence businesses opened to the public weeks ago, Wonder Fair owners and general managers Paul DeGeorge and Meredith Moore held back on opening their doors until June 15 to minimize person-to-person contact as much as possible.
“We are at phase three now in Lawrence, [but] we were allowed to open in phase one, so we’re trying to stay two phases behind just as an added measure,” Moore said.
Customers must wear masks and use the hand sanitizer provided right as they come in the store and as they leave. Moore and DeGeorge offered masks to those who needed them and handled all face-to-face customer interactions to keep their staff safe.
Only 10 customers are allowed in the shop at a time and staff has been cut to just one regular employee. Moore and DeGeorge are also asking customers to leave all sampled pens and pencils on the counter so employees can disinfect them before putting them back.
“The case counts are going up so we’re also not just choosing one plan and sticking to it, we’re choosing the plan that fits each scenario,” Moore said. “So, if cases keep going up, we’ll go back to [being] totally shut down and no customers at all.”
Wonder Fair customer Emi Sanders visited the store on June 20 for the first time since the shutdowns. She said she appreciated the shop’s commitment to keeping people safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel like out of any store I’ve been to recently, they were doing probably the best job,” Sanders said. “I haven’t been to many stores that actually require masks upon entry, so when I saw they were requiring them and even offering them for free for people who didn’t have them, I felt like they were doing a pretty good job.”
During the three months Wonder Fair was closed, DeGeorge and Moore came up with creative ways to connect with their customers virtually.
“We don’t want to be an online store; we want to be this store,” DeGeorge said. “I think that a lot of people come to Wonder Fair because it’s visually interesting [and] it’s well curated. I can’t say we were excited to put together an online store, but that’s sort of what necessity dictated in the moment.”
Although the website includes a large selection of items, not everything is online. Only about 500 items are for sale on the virtual shop while the brick-and-mortar store has over 10,000 items, according to the website. With people staying at home more and trying out new hobbies, some customers turn to Wonder Fair for supplies to help them explore new interests.
“Part of this moment is that people have been liberated from their daily routines in a lot of ways so when your life gets disrupted, that’s a good time to form some new habits,” DeGeorge said.
Along with the website, DeGeorge and Moore talked about featured and recommended items via live streams on their YouTube channel. The two owners sat together on an improvised in-store set with items on display and a Wonder Fair home shopping network mural behind them.
Douglas County will be extending phase three of its reopening plan for an additional two weeks. The county was set originally to start a phase out by June 22, but extended after an increase in COVID-19 cases.
“The home shopping network was our approach to online marketing because we’re just so uninterested in doing the online marketing hustle of posting a photograph of a product and trying to sell stuff that way,” DeGeorge said. “So we thought we could do something a little more cheeseball and fun and unique.”
Wonder Fair’s popular Haunted Bathroom also made the switch online during the shutdown. Haunted Bathroom artist and creator Dustin Williams created a short video of the bathroom together with other local artists featuring a spooky voice over, soundtrack and special effects.
“I kind of just threw [the idea] out to one of my friends as a joke and also as a way to continue to drive traffic to their online store,” Williams said. “I feel like there’s a lot of stuff we’ll propose to each other like ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if we did this?’ and Paul and Meredith are like ‘Yeah, sounds good, let’s do it.’”
Wonder Fair is currently making a move to decrease their hours on busy days to limit person-to-person contact as coronavirus cases in Douglas County continue to spike. DeGeorge and Moore have decided to close entirely on Sundays and are looking to closely monitor and limit the number of customers allowed in the store on Saturdays.
DeGeorge and Moore are also offering a one hour window each morning from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. for private shopping for one to two people, meant for at-risk individuals or people especially worried about transmission. Moore said that Wonder Fair’s hours are based on case numbers, not the calendar, so things change on a day-by-day basis. Moore and DeGeorge encourage customers to look for the latest updates on their website.
“We just have to take things day by day,” Moore said. “We’d much rather be here every day with everyone and we’re looking at the science and the data and making the best decision every day.”
This story was updated Wednesday, July 8 to reflect the most recent information about Wonder Fair's store hours.