Bill Kupferle never expected to be lugging an ozone machine into his resale shop on East High Street, but now that it's there, he can't really imagine reopening the business without it.
And no, it's not for sale.
For 48 hours before the reopening of The Xchange Boutique, the ozone machine whirred to life, spitting out ozone molecules into the air. The unit, now stored in a designated clothing room and provided by a friend who works in the industry, was large enough to "take care of" the store's total square footage.
The best way to describe it?
"It's like that little Pac-Man that would go out and eat up things," Kupferle said. "And that's what (ozone) does. It actually goes out and eats up and dissipates the bacteria."
How long the virus that causes COVID-19 can live on soft, porous surfaces and in the air is largely unknown, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Kupferle decided he wouldn't take his chances.
The resale shop temporarily closed around mid-March, stayed closed through April and opened in early May. During that time, Xchange did not buy or sell any clothing, Kupferle said.
"The chance of anything maintaining on soft goods over that period of time is pretty nil," he said. "But my wife is a cancer survivor. I'm 73 with (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and we wanted to take every possible precaution that we could. It's kind of like adding icing on the cake."
Resale shops across the nation are finding themselves in somewhat precarious situations as they reopen. Many of their restaurateur neighbors are making do. Wiping down and disinfecting hard surfaces like tables, counters and chairs is relatively straightforward.
But how do resalers make sure the clothing that comes into their stores is clean?
In Kupferle's case, the conclusion was an ozone generator. Though the intentional production of ozone has its share of controversy (the Environmental Protection Agency has an entire subheaded listing dedicated to ozone generators sold as air purifiers), Kupferle backed it up as a proven process often used in the flood and fire restoration business.
He said he'll be using the process going forward.
"What I've done since (closing) — and what we'll be doing going forward and probably maintain it on an ongoing basis even after this virus dies down — is we have a designated room that, as new clothing comes in, it's processed, we tag it with our pricing and all that good stuff, but that will then go into this room and be ozonated for at least 36 hours before it goes to the floor.
"It's something that you never really thought of doing before," he added. "But it probably, in hindsight, it probably would not have been a bad idea."
Downtown at The Snob Shop Exchange, not much has changed since the reopening of the resale shop at 211 E. High St. — besides the fact Nikki Payne now makes numerous trips to the washer to launder every single piece of clothing the shop will sell.
What was once a same-day process to purchase items, tag them and get them out on the floor before the coronavirus pandemic has turned into an average three-day process. Clothing the shop buys Monday might only make it out onto the floor by Thursday.
Hangers, totes, shoes, hats and any containers customers bring clothing in are also sanitized. Very seldom do clothes come in trash bags, Payne said, but when and if they do, the trash bags get sanitized, too.
Dressing rooms are an interesting feat. Payne and her staff disinfect every single item in the dressing room: chairs, handles, hooks and, yes, even the walls.
"We don't know. Are they holding onto the wall? Are they leaning up against the wall?" she asked.
It takes longer, but she'd rather spend time taking extra precautions than not, Payne said. She's accepted it as the new normal for now.
"I just knew that our lives were going to be a little crazy for a while," Payne said. "We were thinking about it, and we knew what we needed to do. We've always kept the store clean. Now we're just going a little beyond."
And though there's hand sanitizer available for customers upon entry and employees take payments from behind a plastic barrier, Payne said customers "get the same smiles when they come in."
"Even if my girls are wearing a mask," she chuckled. "You just can't tell."
Melissa Tynes has been open since May 5, but K's Consignment Shop at 722 Jefferson St. has been a bit quieter.
"People are calling to ask if I'm open," Tynes said.
K's Consignment goes by appointment only, allowing Tynes to better control the clothing that comes into her store. She said she trusts her customers to bring in clean items and isn't changing much when it comes to sanitizing clothing — she's still following her standard procedure. And most people know she's picky on clothing, Tynes said.
"I'm assuming people are aware of that when they walk in my store because I'm a used clothing store. If they do not want to be around that, then they shouldn't come in — and I hate to say that," she laughed. "But that's the fact. This isn't a new thing. People have been living with (coronavirus) for several weeks."
Still, the shop had it's own deep clean. While K's Consignment was closed, Tynes cleaned, shuffled, rearranged and removed.
"I want people to come in, but I want them to be safe," Tynes said. "It's up to them to know what's safe or not for themselves."
From before the coronavirus pandemic started, Kupferle said, Xchange was selective in the clothing they purchased. Clean items with no odor, no trash bags. As they begin to weigh accepting clothing again — hopefully around mid-to late-June, he said — to some extent they'll be even more selective. Some sections will be phased down. For example, a T-shirt that sells for $3 at Walmart and $2 at Xchange doesn't add much in the long run.
Thankfully, while they weren't doing business on the clothing side, the appliances Xchange bought and sold by appointment carried them through April. Their inventory of clothing remains steady.
"Everybody has heard so many different stories as far as what this virus is. Not only for your safety and the safety of somebody else coming in, what we're doing is not accepting any clothing at this point," Kupferle said. "The last thing we would want is for you to come in and buy something, and, God forbid, you pick up a virus off of it."
"I think it's just playing it safe and being a little over cautious at this point without being radical," he added.
As she worked through the mandatory business limitations last month, Payne often found herself in front of a bright ring light on Facebook Live, holding up item after item to the camera and making sales virtually. She also offered curbside pickup.
She and her staff at Snob Shop are playing it by ear, but she said she doesn't believe the pandemic has drastically affected or will change the resale industry moving forward.
"We're just as busy. We picked up where we left off in March," Payne said. "A lot of people were worried that we weren't going to be here, but we did live video sales on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and that was great. We still gave our customers what they were wanting from the comfort of their own homes."
She does get questions. People want to be assured the clothing is sanitized, that it's safe to shop resale.
And when they come in — no appointment needed — Payne said it's up to the customer whether they wish to wear a mask.
Payne was just ready to get back to the new normal, extra precautions and all.