Within a few weeks, owner Michaelle Graybeal’s apparel business All That JAS — a longtime staple of downtown Elon — went from having a steady crowd of college students shop inside daily to temporarily closing its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. Graybeal stayed calm when students left for Spring Break but the news hit her and the business hard when she realized they wouldn’t be returning.
“When we realized Elon students weren’t coming back, it crushed us,” Graybeal said. “We had things in the pipeline for group orders, Mother’s Day and graduation, but we lost all of our spring sales.”
With next to no one on campus to place orders, sales have decreased 70% since March 14, which was the last day students could be on campus. The store is best known for its custom apparel and gifts, and has been in business in downtown Elon for over 10 years.
Graybeal said the store’s spring sales help pay the bills and keep the store operating through summer. Without their usual orders, she and her employees have had to get creative and adapt. The brand launched all new designs and package deals for clothing and masks on their website. All sales are currently online with options for shipping or curbside pickup.
“It was time to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get going on some things,” Graybeal said.
Elon senior Sydney Donaldson is the brand coordinator for All That JAS. She began working from home on the brand new designs with her fellow employees as soon as Graybeal asked, knowing that the new products had to be successful enough to keep the business going.
“It’s really upsetting seeing so many small businesses do so horribly right now,” Donaldson said. “We run off of the Elon students and community, and a huge part within that is Greek life.”
The business applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which is intended for small businesses to help keep their workforce employed during the pandemic.
Originally the loan was for an eight week period, but it is now 24 weeks.
“The extension of time will be beneficial for us,” Graybeal said. “We are still not sure what of the loans will be forgiven, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they will be.”
There aren’t enough sales for anyone to be working in the store, but Graybeal is working with her employees to make sure everything is ready for students to return.
She hopes to reopen the store to the public the first week of August. Graybeal visits the store every day to answer the phone and take care of orders, but she’s also working on safety protocols and alternatives like outdoor displays and rearranging the store.
Graybeal and her employees are in the process of purchasing new merchandise like contactless keychains and masks.
“The beauty of being a small business is that we’ve recreated ourselves over the years,” Graybeal said. “We can do this based on what people want and what they need to see.”
Both Graybeal and Donaldson hope the new safety measures and upcoming fall events like virtual trunk shows and a new ambassador program will bring in business when students return to campus.
“Shopping in our store is much more of a hands-on experience,” Donaldson said. “We make much more of a profit with in-store sales than online, and you get to make personal connections with us and see the products you want in-person.”
Graybeal said the fall semester will be “very telling” for the business. She and Donaldson both acknowledged it’s going to be a very tough year and are trying not to think about what will happen if Elon students are sent home again.
“If you’re ever going to buy from small businesses or want them to survive and be available on campus, then now is the time to shop small,” Graybeal said. “People aren’t thinking about that right now, but if you don’t, then there aren’t any places when you want them for little gifts and things.”