Coronavirus brings new way to shop for clothes, say St. Louis boutiques

Only five customers are allowed inside Laurie Solet at once. Clothing gets steamed after each try-on. Fitting rooms are sanitized.

The women’s boutique here also offers curbside pickup and personalized style boxes, mailed directly to clients, so they can try on clothes without leaving home. “We’re happy to do it so we can keep our doors open,” said store manager and buyer Laura McDonald.

But what it’s really fighting for now: Foot traffic.

Clothing stores across the country closed for months when coronavirus stay-at-home orders went into effect this spring. As they reopened, and as shoppers shifted to buying online, brick-and-mortar shops fought for sales. Many started curbside pickup. Some beefed up their websites. Others, like Laurie Solet, began mailing directly to clients. But as the months stretched on, boutiques realized they had to figure out how to regain the trust of wary customers — and get them back inside the stores themselves.

Bigger stores have certainly been affected as well. Target still has its fitting rooms closed. Department stores largely have embraced curbside pickup — the St. Louis Galleria has designated curbside parking. Nordstrom, for example, has 14 spots. The retailer also cleans fitting rooms between customers, and every other room is closed for social distancing.

“It’s kind of the new normal,” said Camilla Yanushevsky, an equity analyst at the CFRA research firm. What’s available in-store often can be ready for pick-up in an hour, and customers can go home and try on clothes and avoid the store altogether.

But independent boutiques have had to be particularly creative.

Suitsupply, a chain known for making custom suits and in-store tailoring, launched an online pre-shopping option this spring. It has a store in the Central West End.

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