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Creativity Helps Karavel Shoes Reopen

From the time the city shut down retail on March 23, until reopening on May 1st, Austin-based Karavel Shoes used the downtime to clean and work on DIY projects, including creative ways to make customers and staff feel safe coming together amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

Karavel president Rick Ravel said initially, the store sent out an eblast to customers letting them know any shoe purchases would ship for free. Then, all but one employee was laid off. However, after applying and receiving funds from the PPP program, the staff was brought back, after only two weeks.

During that two-week period a staff member offered to begin development on the store's first e-commerce site. It is now up and running on Shopify, giving customers a new, convenient way to shop.

Ravel realized that the virus will not be going away for years and decided that to open the store they needed to make sure staff and customers would feel and be safe. For over thirty years, working with orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists, Karavel has donated services to an indigent outpatient foot clinic at a local hospital, and that gave Ravel the idea that working in a hospital-like setting seemed like the best idea and easiest to create.

"We felt that putting cubicles up would be the safest way to protect our customers. After making a couple of prototypes we came up with a 2" grade 40 PVC pipe design. We made 16 cubicles at 5'x5'sq. x 6.5' high -- 8 in the men's and athletic department and 8 in the women's area. We decided that fabric would be best to enclose the three sides because they could be removed and washed. Looking for fabric, we came across a company in Georgia that makes cubicles who cut the fabric in the size we needed and added Velcro.

Early on, Ravel ordered infrared thermometers, masks, and hand sanitizer and commercial disinfectant by the gallon. "We had purchased two 3D printers to make custom inserts, but began using them to make face shields. We have offered the shields to NSRA members at $10 a piece under our "Shields for Food" program in which proceeds are donated to food banks. About $1,200 has been donated so far, he said.

Karavel has also created an opening procedure list for employees based on OSHA guidelines, and each employee has their temperature taken when they arrive, and it is logged daily. Each customer's temperature is taken as well, and hand sanitizer is available for customer use.

Outside, at the front door, there is a sign-in sheet and a doorbell to be used to notify the staff the customer has arrived. Ravel said that using the doorbell allows phone lines to be open, and staff is able to get to the customer much quicker.

At the end of each day, high-touch areas are sprayed with disinfectant, including chairs, measuring devices and doors.

Until a vaccine is developed, Ravel intends to continue to use the cubicles and take temperatures.

Karavel Shoes is taking walk-ins and appointments, seven days a week. Customers and employees have commented how safe they feel with the new processes.

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