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Inside is Out, Outside is In: The Air We Breathe is on Everyone’s Mind

By October 7, 2020January 27th, 2021No Comments

COVID-19 has made people acutely aware of the air they breathe. And with this week’s CDC confirmation that the COVID-19 virus is airborne and can be transmitted through the air, it might be time for grocers and retailers who are doing business indoors to adjust their policies for protecting not just their shoppers, but also their employees.

Here are some ways businesses are responding to this new concern, both inside and outside.

Le Rivage Restaurant, from the New York Post, photo by Nadine DeNinno

City Chips In to Support Outdoor Dining

Restaurants were among the first to bring their business outside, even extending dining onto sidewalks and streets. Some have put up temporary quarantine bubbles outside or in parking lots with heaters and mood-enhancing lights thrown in to entice the unconvinced. 

From SFGATE, Sushi Hashiri Restaurant in San Francisco, CA, photo by Douglas Zimmerman

At least one city has gone over and above to save compromised restaurants in their area. The city of Brentwood, CA, offered restaurants and cafés a chance to apply for “up to $5,000 to buy furniture, railings, umbrellas, shade structures, pottery and other outdoor dining amenities” to support the city’s business recovery. They started this program back in 2011, but have since refreshed the program called the “Outdoor Dining Furniture Grant.”

Jenny Martinez of Brentwood gets ready for the early evening diners in the widened outside patio area at Sweeney’s Bar and Grill in Brentwood, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011. The city is now offering outdoor furniture grants to encourage outdoor dining and help support businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

Shopping Goes Open-Air

Mall development in the past 10 years have focused on creating new customer experiences, many of them outdoors. While these investments were made without forethought of a pandemic, they have fared better than older, indoor counterparts this year. During the week of June 8, visits to outdoor centers were down 34% year-over-year, while visits to indoor centers were down 42%, according to research from the data firm Placer.ai.

SOURCE: Placer.ai – Indoor vs. Open Air Malls – Who’s Performing Better? July 1, 2020

Last month, malls in Southern California, in an effort to create a new shopping normal, took their stores outside. They are using their parking spaces as marketplaces on weekends, from Friday to Sunday, creating a vibe of summertime street fairs with booths hosted by retailers and food vendors.  Dubbed as “open-air shopping experiences,” malls like The Shops at Mission Viejo showcase retailers who would otherwise not be allowed to open due to California’s restrictions on indoor shopping.

Mall parking lot in Southern California turned into outdoor markets
Mall parking lots in Southern California turned into outdoor markets – The Shops at Mission Viejo debuts outdoor shopping over the weekend on Saturday, August 8, 2020. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Walmart as Your Snack Bar

Walmart was trying to promote a safe activity when they started to offer free drive-in movies in their parking lots. Not only are they bringing people to their stores by offering a differentiated outdoor experience, but they are also providing their communities a sense of normalcy during the pandemic. Not to mention – where else can you go to a drive-in movie with a Walmart Super Center as your snack bar?

Air Safety Takes on a New Meaning

Beyond retail, and specifically for air travel, clean, safe air has become a new selling point. Last month, I got a video email from Ben Minicucci, the CEO of Alaska Airlines, which showed off the HEPA filters used in two types of Alaska Airlines airplanes. He also made the point that air flows from the top to the bottom of the airplane cabin, not from the front to the back of the airplane. It’s good to know that passengers in Row M are not breathing the air from passengers in Rows A through L!

One of the HEPA filters that are being used in Alaska Airlines’ planes.
Airplane cabin air is being touted as being cleaner than the air you would normally breathe in at home.

Shoppers patronize stores that take their safety seriously. Grocers will do well to implement more safety-first measures and also remember to communicate these new and improved advantages to win hearts, minds, and lungs during this pandemic!

For other ways that retailers can up their game as COVID-19 continues to change the way consumers shop for groceries, click HERE.