LONE TREE, Colo. (AP) – Darcy Velasquez, 42, and her mother, Roberta Truax, recently walked into the Park Meadows mall about 15 miles south of downtown Denver looking for Christmas presents for Velasquez’s two children when they saw a store with an exhibit of rhinestone-masked.
It’s an unchanging truth of fashion: Sparkles can go a long way with a 9-year-old.
The store is called COVID-19 Essentials. And it may well be the country’s first retail chain dedicated exclusively to a contagious disease, reports Kaiser Health News.
As many US stores closed during the coronavirus pandemic, especially inside malls, the owners of this chain have seized the void as well as the world’s growing acceptance that wearing masks is a reality that could last well into 2021, if not longer. Masks have evolved from a utilitarian, all-you-can-find-that-works product to a different way of expressing your personality, political leanings, or sports fandom.
And the owners of COVID-19 Essentials are betting that Americans are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Prices range from $ 19.99 for a simple children’s mask to $ 130 for the top-of-the-line face covering with an N95 filter and a battery-powered fan.
Almost every store and many pop-up kiosks in the Park Meadows mall now sell masks. But COVID-19 Essentials also carries other accessories for the pandemic in a room that has a more established feel than a pop-up store for the holidays; permanent signage over the glass doors includes a stylized image of a coronavirus particle.
Located next to the UNTUCKit shirt store and across from a Tesla showroom, it has neither brand recognition nor track record for a JC Penney. But longevity does not seem to have helped that clothing chain or many others escape the industry upheaval during the pandemic. According to analysts at S&P Global Market Intelligence, retail bankruptcies peaked at 10-year highs from January to mid-August.
Not that COVID-19 Essentials owners want their products to be in demand forever.
“I can’t wait to go out of business eventually,” said Nadav Benimetzky, a Miami retailer who founded COVID-19 Essentials, which now has eight locations around the country.
That seemed to be the attitude of most customers who walked into the store on a Friday afternoon. Most people understood the need for masks – facial coatings are necessary to enter the mall themselves – and thus they recognized the business case of a COVID-19 store. Still, they hoped that masks would soon go like bell bottoms or leg warmers. Currently, they are making the best of the situation.
Nathan Chen, who owns the Lone Tree store with Benimetzky, previously ran another store at Denver Airport, but as air travel fell, a COVID-focused business seemed a much better venture. The pandemic gives, and the pandemic removes.
Benimetzky opened the first COVID-19 Essentials store in the Aventura Mall in suburban Miami after seeing demand for N95 masks early in the pandemic. “They are ugly and unpleasant and everyone hates them,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. If you need to wear a mask, you might as well make it fashionable and beautiful. ”
It can mean a sequin or satin mask for more formal occasions, or the toothy grin of a skull mask for casual affairs. Some masks have zippers to make it easier to eat, or a hole for a straw with a velcro closure when the cup is sucked dry.
The chain has locations in New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Las Vegas and is looking to open stores in California where forest fires have only increased the demand for masks.
Initially, the owners were really not sure the idea would fly. They opened the first store just as malls reopened after lockdown.
“We really did not understand how big it would be,” Benimetzky said. “We did not go into it with the idea of opening many stores. But we got busy from the moment we opened. ”
Nancy Caeti, 76, stopped by the Lone Tree store to buy masks for her grandchildren. She bought one with a clear panel for her granddaughter, whose sign language instructor should see her lips move. She bought her daughter, a music teacher and Denver Broncos fan, a mask with the football team logo.
“I was living through the polio epidemic,” Caeti said as her latex gloved hand inserted her credit card into the card reader. “It reminds me of that, but that I did not think was so bad.” She recalled how her mother had lined up for her and her siblings to get the polio vaccine and said she would be first in line for a COVID shot.
That may be the essential thing the store does not have. It chops key-like devices to open doors and press elevator buttons without touching them. Some have a built-in bottle opener. There is ultraviolet lighting equipment for disinfecting telephones and exclusive hand sanitizer, which the employees spray on customers as if it were a perfume sample in the department store.
But the masks are the biggest draw. The store can personalize them with rhinestone letters or the kind of ironing patches that teens once wore on their jeans.
Upon entry, customers can check their temperature with a digital forehead scanner with audible instructions: “Take a closer look. Take a closer look. Normal temperature. Normal temperature. ”
The store has also added a sink near the entrance so customers can wash their hands before handling the goods.
Some malls walk past the store confused and stop to take pictures to post them on social media with a message you need to have to be funny. An elderly white couple in matching masks noticed a mask embossed with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” in the storefront and walked away in disgust.
The store takes no political sides; there are three designs of President Donald Trump campaign masks, two for Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. A woman who refused to give her name came in wearing a mask under her nose and wondered if a Trump mask would fit her little face. The Trump masks are among the more popular sellers, Chen said, so he keeps them in a larger cabinet to accommodate the extra stock. It is not clear whether it will predict the election result that some have faced over the sale of Halloween masks.
Daniel Gurule, 31, stopped at the mall during his lunch time to pick up an Apple Watch, but ventured into the store for a new mask. He said he usually wore a ventilated mask, but that not everywhere allowed them. (They protect users, but not the people around them.) He bought a $ 24.99 mask with the logo of the Denver Nuggets basketball team.
“It takes away a bit of our personality when everyone walks around in disposable masks,” Chen said. “It kind of looks like a hospital, like everyone’s sick.”
Most of the stitches are sewn specifically for the chain, including many by hand. One of their suppliers is a family of Vietnamese immigrants who sew stitches in their home in Los Angeles, Benimetzky said. Chen said it was difficult to keep masks in stock and that every day it seemed like a different design became their bestseller.
Dorothy Lovett, 80, stopped outside the store and leaned on a cane with an animal print design.
“I had to back up and say, ‘What the hell is this?’ “” She said. “I’ve never seen a mask shop before.”
By MARKIAN HAWRYLUK
(© Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.)