REBUILDING AMERICA: These local businesses flexed their creative muscles during the coronavirus outbreak and are stronger because of it.

During the coronavirus outbreak, some local retailers found ways to not only sustain their business, but also grow it.


One of those was Santa Rosa Beach fashion designer Mary Ellen DiMauro. Less than a week after closing her women’s clothing boutique at The Hub on 30a, she found a new stream of revenue sewing masks and shipping them or setting them outside for porch pick-up.


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DiMauro was able to employ two local seamstresses and focus on growing her online sales. She didn’t sell much online before the pandemic.


"Now most of my income is coming in from online," DiMauro said. "I really feel like coming out of this, my business is going to be stronger than ever. All of those online orders and support has meant so much. In 2020 with technology, you literally don’t have to have a store to run a business or to make sales."


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DiMauro’s biggest lesson learned is the power of technology. She uses social media more now and offers virtual private shopping appointments.


"It’s more direct and personal," DiMauro said. "It’s really sweet, because you actually get to see each other’s face on Facetime. To stay in touch through social media has been really amazing."


DiMauro feels blessed to have a growing business. Now she is dreaming big, she said.


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"I definitely love being apart of the small business community, but having the online sales has showed we can grow to something bigger," DiMauro said. "I’d love to be able to offer more jobs to local people in the community."


Like DiMauro, Heidi LoCicero found creative ways for her business to prosper. Frillseekers Gifts in Destin specializes in wedding invitations, party invitations, monogramming, printing, engraving, gift baskets and gifts.


LoCicero added new items, same day shipping, local delivery and porch pick-ups.


"Each of those has made a difference in us not just surviving, but thriving during this time," LoCicero said. "It was refreshing to see our customers react to having the convenience of a personal shopper and getting the gift wrapped and delivered."


Many customers were sad because of the stay-at-home order, she said, so they made gift baskets and themed celebration boxes.


The lockdown taught her they can do business in a more personal way, LoCicero said.


"People are busy these days," LoCicero said. "It’s showed us there’s a need to offer more personalized services. It’s given us a new income stream to focus on the folks that just don’t have time to shop or don’t choose to, which was definitely the case for the dads on Mother’s Day."


Tim Carr, the owner of Fluid Surf Shop in Fort Walton Beach, also took advantage of online sales, offering curbside pick-up and delivery. The closure gave him a chance to clean up the website, which he plans to continue using.


"We opened by appointment only or I would do deliveries if someone bought something locally," Carr said. "I would just become like the Fedex guy and drop it off to their house. Whatever it took. There was some great surf during April, so we had a few board sales."


Since the shop reopened May 1 at its new location across from the Temple Mound Museum, Carr said sales have increased – even having a couple of record high sales days. Carr sees it as a "late spring break."


"I don’t know if it’s pent up retail therapy, but it’s been busy," Carr said. "We’ve been very fortunate there ... I think it’s going to be a good summer."