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Fredericksburg-area businesses 'think outside the box' to reach customers amid pandemic

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Fredericksburg has created a new website to encourage support of local businesses that have come up with creative ways to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s called

Danelle Rose, the city’s Visitor Center and tourism services manager, came up with the idea for it last month after Gov. Ralph Northam said all restaurants, fitness centers and theaters could have only 10 patrons at a time while encouraging carry-out and takeaway options.

“I was thinking we have to do something for these businesses,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see this.”

Fredericksburg marketing firm Rambletype was hired to create the website, which shares how Fredericksburg businesses are finding creative ways to survive these challenging times. Castiglia’s and Basilico Italian Market & Deli, for example, are assembling do-it-yourself pizza kits for takeout or delivery; and Foode is selling groceries in addition to individual entrées and family meals.

All three businesses are among those listed under the Food & Drink category on It also features listings for retail and service businesses, as well listings under a category called “Virtual Tours & Fun.”

“We’re trying to find stories so people can see some of the good that’s coming out of all of this,” Rose said. “We’re kind of showing the love.”

So far, has been getting about 600 hits per day, she said. Rose added that business owners say they’re encouraging other businesses to ask to share what they’re doing on the website, as well.

“When all this happened, it kind of pushed us to think outside the box,” said D.D. Lecky, co-owner of LibertyTown Arts Workshop.

Since customers can’t come in for a class or to shop until after June 10, which is when the governor’s stay-at-home order ends, the downtown Fredericksburg business is reaching out to them, instead. It’s providing delivery and pickup for its “Take and Make” craft kits, and is using Facebook Live to provide weekly demonstrations by some of its member artists. Virtual tours of its gallery are in the works, as well.

To make the craft kits work for those who need guidance to complete the project, Lecky said she and her staff came up with the idea of providing an instructional video on a private Facebook channel. It’s accessed by using the QR code provided in each kit.

“We’ve found it’s successful about 90 percent of the time,” Lecky said. “Ten percent of the people it doesn’t work for because they need more help, but we’re getting really good success with a lot of kids. We’re moving on to our second one, which is an octopus snack-and-dip tray.”

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The first kit included materials for making a mug, and staff donned masks and gloves to make them and to pick them up so they could be fired in LibertyTown’s kiln.

“Everything is zero contact at this point,” Lecky said. “We’re trying to be as tidy as we can be with all this stuff to keep everybody safe as possible.”

The new initiatives won’t make up for the all the revenue LibertyTown would be making if times were normal, she said. It usually teaches about 200 students per week, and provides work and gallery space for local artists.

“What we can do is stay in front of people, stay relevant and provide them an important service,” Lecky said.

Riverby Books is another Fredericksburg business on the website that has come up with a novel way of staying in business despite having to shut its doors. Owner Paul Cymrot has started a weekly books subscription program.

For $10 a week, customers can get one or more used books selected by staff and made available for pickup outside the store, by delivery or through the mail. Selections are based on a subscriber’s guidelines or can be a surprise, and come with a note tucked inside.

The program has 135 or more subscribers in Virginia, as well as Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Washington.

“It’s enabled me to have bookstore work for my long-term staff,” said Cymrot. “I had been scared about what we would do when the public part of the store was closed, because I wanted to keep getting them paid and I wanted to not ask them to vacuum and clean and scrub indefinitely.”

He’s dealing with social distancing recommendations by arranging things so neither he nor the staff are at Riverby at the same time. Cymrot monitors the bookstore’s email and Facebook accounts and takes the orders. A staff member comes in over the weekend to select the books, which he checks over on Mondays.

“I know a lot of the people who are subscribing, so I like to peek in and make sure that it’s something that I know that they’ve not only read but read and also brought in to sell their copy over the years,” Cymrot said.

He said the subscription program has given him and his staff an idea of what people like—currently, it’s happy endings, he said. They have also learned parents want children’s books based on reading level.

“Parents know so much better by those terms what their kids are reading, and that’s not how we ever thought of it before,” Cymrot said. “The kids can generally gravitate toward what they like when they’re in here in the store. We’re learning new ways of thinking about what people read.”

He said he would consider offering subscriptions after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

“If there’s a will for it, I’m delighted to continue it,” he said. “If people enjoy it, it’s great fun.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

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