The Home Furnishings Association urges furniture retailers to tell their state and local elected leaders that their businesses are safe, essential and strong contributors to economic recovery.
“The COVID crisis isn’t going away soon,” Mark Schumacher, the association’s CEO, said in an email to more than 1,300 HFA members. “In fact, a surge in new infections across the country is forcing some governors and local officials to consider stronger measures to reduce transmissions. But we’ve learned these critical lessons over the past nine months:
“Furniture stores are essential. The nearly unprecedented demand for home furnishings products shows that Americans need to make their homes more comfortable and functional.
“Furniture stores are safe. You’re seeing more customers by appointment, limiting the number of people in your stores at a time and following proper health and safety protocols. You’re doing everything possible to reduce risk for employees and customers.
“Furniture stores are strong contributors to our economic recovery. You are keeping people employed. You’re paying taxes. And you are helping those who are less fortunate in your communities.”
High-occupancy settings fuel transmission
A comprehensive study published Nov. 10 in the scientific journal Nature tracked the spread of COVID-19 in U.S. cities. “Chang and colleagues’ model predicts that infections in venues such as restaurants, gyms and religious establishments have a disproportionately large role in driving up infection rates, corroborating findings from epidemiological studies,” the journal noted in an overview of the study.
“Chang et al. found that capping the maximum occupancy of venues – a strategy that implicitly reduces the number of person-hours spent in risky, high-occupancy settings – is predicted to result in a decreased number of new infections compared with a strategy of less-targeted, overall activity reduction.”
This means that a repeat of the general, non-targeted closings of nearly all retail businesses, including furniture stores, would not be the most effective means to reducing community spread. Those efforts should focus on high-risk settings.
One of the country’s COVID-19 hot spots is El Paso, Texas, which is registering thousands of new cases daily. Mayor Dee Margo “said contact tracing data has been continuing to show big-box stores as the leading source of where the virus has been infecting community members,” according to a recent report by KTSM.com.
Operating safely in El Paso, Texas
That’s in sharp contrast to the experience of 8 Designs Furnishing and Lighting, which has maintained a safe environment throughout the crisis, according to co-owner Grisel Ortega.
The HFA member sees customers by appointment only, she said. “Give us a call and we’ll open,” she said. But no walk-ins. “We’re only allowing three people at a time in here,” she added, referring to the 5,000-square-foot showroom. “And we have them wear their masks.”
Despite these precautions, however, Ortega said it’s a “possibility” that the store will be ordered to close.
New Deal Furniture operates a much larger store in El Paso – 80,000 square feet – so as many as 60 people inside can spread out safely. “With employees, it’s probably closer to 40 most of the time,” said Victor Falvey, vice president.
The 73-year-old family business follows extensive guidelines. Employees have their temperature checked daily and are observed for symptoms. They wear face coverings everywhere on the premises and on deliveries. Hand sanitizer is readily available. Surfaces are cleaned a dozen times a day, or about every 40 minutes. Customers don’t have to make appointments to come in, but entry is limited to one of the store’s four main doors. They must wear masks. If the store is already busy, some people may be asked to wait before coming in, Falvey said.
Customers need comfort in their ‘nests’
New Deal Furniture sells appliances, which qualifies it as an essential business. In Texas, bedding, lift chairs and adjustable beds are also considered essential, Falvey said. But customers are also looking for stress-relievers, like massage chairs, he added. They need ergonomic items for working at home. And, as they’re “nesting,” he said, they just want furniture that helps them relax. “In times of stress, we need our comfort,” he said.
New Deal doesn’t want its customers to be anxious about shopping. When they see the constant cleaning and the other precautions, Falvey said, they can be sure the business cares about their safety.
“Our community is struggling right now,” Falvey said. “We sure don’t want to add to that.”
The HFA believes that government orders to close businesses should be based on data. Such actions can’t be arbitrary but must be expected to decrease new infections.
Retailers must tell leaders their stories
But stories like 8 Designs’ and New Deal’s also must be told to the government leaders who may decide which businesses should close and which can remain open this winter.
The HFA has created a short document outlining its argument that retailers can send to their governors, mayors or other elected officials. They should add their own stories. But they must make sure that leaders hear from them soon.
They can find their state and local elected officials here: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
HFA is a member of the Alliance4Safety with industry partners.
Not a member of the HFA? Add your voice to ours!