by Lindsey Fortunato, AIA
If you’re anything like me, the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown brought fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and frankly, retail therapy. But with storefronts closed, and COVID droplets seemingly hanging in the air everywhere, I wasn’t about to leave my house for anything that I could find online, which other than toilet paper and sanitizing cleaners, was just about anything at all. As I sat at home stress-baking and stress-buying, I wondered if I ever really needed to return to in-person shopping. Other than shipping delays and the occasional size surprise (“This jar of pickles is WAY bigger than I expected!”), it was all relatively smooth…which is potentially very problematic for my business.
I am the director of planning and strategy at a family-owned commercial construction company in central Connecticut. Our business, founded by my father more than 30 years ago, has survived through many economic cycles over the last three decades and has changed and evolved quite a bit in that time. Throughout the late ’90s and early 2000s, we led in the restaurant construction space, with over a hundred new restaurants and dozens of renovation projects in New England. When the market shifted and restaurant work slowed, we grew in retail.
In the last 15 years, we’ve built and renovated hundreds of retail locations, with double and even triple digit units for specific retailers. While in recent years some of these clients shifted to a greater online presence and a reduced physical footprint, many others have continued to grow and redesign the in-person customer experience. While we’ve been especially fortunate to have strong relationships with retailers in the very essential grocery sector at this unprecedented time, the uncertainty around the future of retail (which was shifting dramatically pre-COVID) is unsettling for our business, which merely provides support to the truly upended market.
So what’s next for shoppers who have found safety and comfort shopping from their own home, for retailers whose business may, or perhaps already has, dissolved during this crisis, and for companies like mine, which provide services for an industry experiencing incredibly rapid change? We adapt. We craft novel experiences that are not merely about obtaining necessary goods, but about orchestrating sensory engagements that nurture or fulfill us in more meaningful ways. We celebrate small businesses with boutique styles and local flair, making conscious choices to shop small, buy local, and invest in our own communities. We honor retail employees for the heroes that they have become when we needed them more than ever. We revel in the creativity, innovation and swift adaptation unleashed by big brands and single makers alike. We welcome new technology into the retail sector to help us to adopt safer practices. We move forward safely, flexibly, and humbly with hope and optimism for the future.
Lindsey Fortunato, AIA, is a licensed architect and the director of planning and strategy at Fortunato Construction Group. Fortunato Construction Group is a decade long member of the Construction Institute.