Need to Find a Pandemic Necessity? There’s Now a Store for That

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LONE TREE, Colo. — Darcy Velasquez and her mom, Roberta Truax, had been strolling just lately within the Park Meadows mall about 15 miles south of downtown Denver, in search of Christmas items for Ms. Velasquez’s two kids, after they noticed a retailer with a show of rhinestone-studded masks.

And whereas it has lengthy been true that sparkles can go a good distance with a 9-year-old woman, this retailer was one thing new. It known as Covid-19 Essentials, and it might be the nation’s first retail chain devoted solely to merchandise necessitated by an infectious illness.

With many U.S. shops closing in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly inside malls, the chain has seized on the empty area, in addition to the world’s rising acceptance that sporting masks is a actuality that will final nicely into 2021, if not longer. Masks have advanced from a utilitarian, anything-you-can-find-that-works product into one other option to specific one’s character, political leanings or sports activities fandom.

And the homeowners of Covid-19 Essentials are betting that Americans are keen to place their cash towards masking the place their mouth is. Prices vary from $19.99 for a easy kids’s masks to $130 for the top-of-the-line face masking, with an N95 filter and a battery-powered fan.

Almost all outlets and plenty of kiosks at Park Meadows, in Lone Tree, now promote masks. But Covid-19 Essentials additionally carries different equipment for the pandemic, in an area that has a extra established really feel than a vacation pop-up retailer; everlasting signage above its glass doorways features a stylized picture of a coronavirus particle. Not that the homeowners need their merchandise to be in demand perpetually.

“I can’t wait to go out of business eventually,” mentioned Nadav Benimetzky, a Miami retailer who based Covid-19 Essentials, which now has eight places across the nation.

Nathan Chen, who owns the Lone Tree retailer with Mr. Benimetzky, beforehand ran a special retailer on the Denver airport, however as air journey declined, a Covid-focused enterprise appeared a a lot better enterprise.

Mr. Benimetzky opened the primary Covid-19 Essentials within the Aventura Mall in suburban Miami after seeing the demand for N95 masks early within the pandemic.

“They’re ugly and uncomfortable, and everybody hates them,” he mentioned. “I piggybacked off of that. If you’re going to wear a mask, you might as well make it fashionable and pretty.”

That might imply a sequin or satin masks for extra formal events, or the toothy grin of a cranium masks for informal affairs. Some masks have zippers to make consuming simpler, or a gap for a straw, with a Velcro closure for when the drink is empty.

The chain has places in New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, and is trying to open shops in California, the place the wildfires have solely added to the demand for masks.

“We didn’t go into it with the idea of opening many stores,” Mr. Benimetzky mentioned. “But we got busy from the second we opened.”

Nancy Caeti, 76, stopped within the Lone Tree retailer to purchase masks for her grandchildren. She purchased one with a transparent panel for her granddaughter, whose signal language teacher must see her lips shifting. She purchased her daughter, a music instructor and Denver Broncos fan, a masks with the soccer staff’s brand.

“I lived through the polio epidemic,” Ms. Caeti mentioned as her latex-gloved hand inserted her bank card into the reader. “It reminds me of that, but that I don’t think was as bad.” She recalled how her mom had lined her and her siblings as much as get the polio vaccine, and mentioned she’d be first in line for a coronavirus shot.

That maybe is the one important the shop doesn’t carry. It hawks keylike gadgets for opening doorways and urgent elevator buttons with out touching them. Some have a built-in bottle opener. There are ultraviolet-light gadgets for disinfecting telephones, and upscale hand sanitizer that staff spray on prospects as if it had been a division retailer fragrance pattern.

But the masks are the most important draw. The retailer can personalize them with rhinestone letters or iron-on patches.

Upon entry, prospects can examine their temperature with a digital brow scanner with audible instructions: “Step closer. Step closer. Temperature normal. Temperature normal.” The retailer additionally has a sink close to the doorway so prospects can wash their fingers earlier than dealing with the merchandise.

Some mallgoers stroll by the shop in bewilderment, stopping to take images to submit to social media with a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding message.

The retailer takes no political sides; there are three designs for Trump 2020 masks and two for Joseph R. Biden Jr. One girl got here in sporting a masks beneath her nostril and questioned whether or not a Trump masks would match her smallish face.

The Trump masks are among the many extra in style sellers, Mr. Chen mentioned, so he retains them in an even bigger cupboard to accommodate the additional inventory. Masks with “Black Lives Matter” on them are within the storefront show.

Daniel Gurule, 31, stopped by the mall on his lunch hour to select up an Apple Watch however ventured into the shop for a brand new masks. He mentioned that he usually wore a vented masks however that not all locations allowed these. (They shield customers however not the individuals round them.) He purchased a $24.99 masks with the emblem of the Denver Nuggets basketball staff.

“It takes away a little bit of our personalities when everybody is walking around in disposable masks,” Mr. Chen mentioned. “It kind of looks like a hospital, like everybody is sick.”

Most of the masks are sewn particularly for the chain, together with many by hand. One provider is a household of Vietnamese immigrants who sew masks at their Los Angeles home, Mr. Benimetzky mentioned. Mr. Chen mentioned that it was arduous to maintain masks in inventory, and that day-after-day it appeared another design grew to become their finest vendor.

Dorothy Lovett, 80, paused exterior the shop, leaning on a cane with an animal print design.

“I had to back up and say, ‘What the heck is this?’” she mentioned. “I’ve never seen a mask store before.”

She perused the show case, noting she wanted to discover a higher possibility than the fabric masks she was sporting.

“I can’t breathe in this one,” mentioned Ms. Lovett, who’s white, earlier than deciding on her favourite. “I like the Black Lives Matter mask.”

This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially unbiased nonprofit information service of the Kaiser Family Foundation. The writer is a reporter for Kaiser Health News.

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