Milwaukee shop finds new way to boost business during pandemic

Just like restaurants and bars, 2020 has been a tough year for small shops and retail businesses.

Traditional shopping habits have been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one Milwaukee business is still set to have one of its best years yet.

A Deloitte study found that around half of shoppers feel anxious about physically walking into a store. So, some businesses are finding new ways for people to window shop.

When shoppers look through the racks at Plume, there is a story behind each colorful pattern.

Clothes on display at Plume in Milwaukee

"I like to think about the other women who've worn this coat before me," said shopper Annie Werner, who prefers to browse in-person. "I'm a very tactile person, so I like to play with the things and see them in person before I buy them."

For Werner, it was 80s plaid that caught her eye. Plume is filled with vintage clothing that is hand-picked by the three women who run it. 

The pandemic's toll on in-person shopping creates a challenge for a store rooted in the past.

"Vintage is definitely a different vehicle than most retail, where many customers prefer to try things on in person because sizing is so different," said Alisa Chojnacki, Plume creator.

Clothes displayed on the Plume Instagram page

While the clothes may be old, it was time for a modern solution -- Instagram.

When the pandemic hit, the small business began selling clothes through Instagram stories. Taking the perfect photo is an important part of the business, as Instagram sales now make up around half of Plume's revenue.

"With the Instagram stories, it's not just central to Milwaukee. Essentially anyone who loves vintage, who really lives anywhere can purchase our garments and enjoy them," Chojnacki said.

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For Plume, foot traffic during the first holiday shopping weekend was actually comparable to 2019. Add in the new Instagram sales, and the small business is set to do more than just survive 2020.

"Plume is really poised to have its most successful year in 2020," said Chojnacki.

The Small Business Administration says, in addition to buying from local businesses, shoppers can also support them by sharing purchases on social media.

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