Vintage goes virtual: downtown clothing shops have shifted to social media sales

Small businesses are being hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, downtown Iowa City clothing shops are finding new ways to manage through Instagram stories and online sales.

Photo+illustration+by+Jenna+Galligan

Jenna Galligan

Photo illustration by Jenna Galligan

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter


In response to regulations forcing them to temporarily close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a handful of downtown Iowa City clothing stores have made the switch from in-person to entirely online sales in order to continue to stay in business.

The Shop, owned by Kate Dryer, Kay Boyer, and Jessica Meyer, ran an online section of their store before the pandemic. The Shop sells a range of products, from clothes to vintage furniture and cameras, and more. Now, social media and websites are their sole avenues of business.

The store has seen an increase in its typical number of Instagram story sales since shopping went virtual, according to Meyer. The Shop offers curbside pickup for items bought off their stories as well as shipping from their website, a service being offered by other downtown shops including Willow & Stock and Artifacts.

While online sales have been successful, one hardship The Shop faces is finding the vintage merchandise it sells, Meyer said. The store typically buys its stock from auctions and estate sales, but due to COVID-19, most of those events are no longer happening.

“That makes it a bit of a challenge to find something vintage. So, we’re working a lot harder on that end,” Meyer said. “A few of these auctions have still been functioning, but nowhere near what the store is used to.”

Along with The Shop, another downtown Iowa City store, Revival, has reduced its staff from eight to two employees.

Revival’s social media manager Megan Lowe and employee Maggy Moran created an Instagram page called @revival.ic.resale in order to continue selling vintage clothes. They had the idea pre-COVID-19 but said the downtime motivated them to start their account.

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“It’s been a lot of good customer interaction for the people that really feel like they’re missing out on the thrifting vibe and browsing through clothes type of customers,” Moran said.

Similar to the other stores in Iowa City, White Rabbit closed its doors on March 16. Shortly after, owner Cortnie Widen fell ill with what she presumed was COVID-19, but couldn’t get tested.

“I [got sick] around March 26, and at that point in time, they were only allowing tests for people over 60,” Widen said. “I got so ill, and my entire staff was on unemployment, so nothing was able to generate income for that span of time.”

Now recovered but still unsure if she had the novel coronavirus, Widen is working on moving White Rabbit online, which has proven to be a challenging task, given her customers are used to shopping at the physical store, she said. While Widen said the store has seen great support from the community and has made some sales on items advertised on their Instagram story, the demand is nowhere near what it used to be.

“It pales in comparison to what we need to be able to pay our bills,” Widen said.

Widen received a small business grant and a payroll protection plan loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration in order to continue operating through the pandemic.

As for the future of the downtown stores, vintage stores Revival, The Shop, and White Rabbit are beginning to plan what their business will look like down the line. Johnson County plans to open certain businesses with limited capacity on May 15, and The Shop, Revival, and White Rabbit all intend to follow the guidelines given to them as restrictions are lifted.

“It’s going to be nice to get things back and going, but there’s still a lot of things up in the air,” Widen said. “We’re taking things slow and following along with what everybody decided is an okay plan downtown.”

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