As many retail stores have temporarily closed their doors in accordance with state and local officials’ orders to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet moved forward with its plans to open a new store in Mishawaka.
Ollie’s, a Pennsylvania-based discount store chain, sells a variety of items, including food, hardware, books, flooring material, small kitchen appliances, cleaning items and more. Items are discounted up to 70 percent because most bargain items were overstocked, a part of closeouts or simply irregular from manufacturers. Every store, according to new store design manager Bill Greenover, has about 20 different departments filled with items to sell and most are considered essential.
“Half of the store is essential,” Greenover said Tuesday. “We have all the necessities you need, like food, cleaning chemicals, pet items, laundry detergent and some hardware items as well.”
Because of that, company spokespeople say the business is essential and plans to move forward with opening in the former Toys R Us building at 6011 Grape Road at 9 a.m. today. However, regional director of northwestern stores Ken Missig said the opening will not be considered “grand” because of scaled back efforts.
“Usually, it’s a bigger event for us with lots of advertising and some celebrities,” Missig said. “But, in light of the situation, we are trying to make it a low-key affair.”
Ollie’s has grown about 15 percent a year, Greenover said, and has about 350 stores nationwide. The chain predominantly takes over previously occupied buildings in well-situated areas, and the 40,000-square foot building in Mishawaka seemed like a good fit.
“It’s a market that is very favorable to us, with good demographics,” Greenover said. “There aren’t a lot of other retailers that are expanding like we are, so we can get buildings like this at a very low cost and with those low costs, we can pass that on to our customers.”
But that doesn’t mean the opening hasn’t been affected by the pandemic.
Greenover said larger stores like the one in Mishawaka typically have about 55 employees staffed to help with stocking shelves, moving freight items and assisting with customer service. However, the Mishawaka location will have just 33 employees on its opening day.
“Staffing was a hard thing,” Greenover said. “People have fear and stigma surrounding this, so to get people staffed and fully stocked with freight was a concern when, usually, it isn’t an issue.”
The new store also has set provisions to encourage social distancing in accordance with CDC recommendations. Blue tape arrows on the floor direct customers which way the flow of traffic may be and signs taped on shelving inform customers to practice social distancing for safety. The store also put other protocols in place that are similar to other retailers and grocery stores, such as limiting only 50 customers inside at one time, staggering open checkout lanes, providing sanitized grocery carts and limiting the number of high-demand goods sold.
The company walks a tightrope in regards to the opening because although it wants to encourage customers to come check out the new store, it also is conscious of state protocols and CDC recommendations of shopping only when necessary. When asked if the company has heard of any backlash of opening during the pandemic, regional director Missig said he had not heard of any complaints.
“The only other store that we’ve opened during this time was in Toledo (Ohio) and the customers seemed to be appreciative to get some of those goods at some good prices,” Missig said. “From our standpoint, we felt like we had a reason to open the store and supply essential goods that people are in need of.”
Have you heard?
Ragamuffin Bakery + Coffee will open in its new downtown South Bend location next Thursday, April 23. The bakery will be at 321 S. Main St., inside the Hibberd building. Keep an eye out for a future Market Basket column about this move. … Because dine-in services are still not allowed, many restaurants and bars have pivoted to carryout and delivery. A continuously updated list of what local restaurants and pubs are offering is online at www./marketbasket.