CAMPBELL — It’s not back to pre-pandemic normal but the Pruneyard Shopping Center is bustling again these days, thanks to some outside-the-box thinking by many of its 44 tenants.
Until the hiccup caused by smoke and soot belched into Bay Area skies for days on end by raging wildfires, Campbell’s signature shopping center was seeing an 18% boost in foot traffic from one week to the next, according to Traci Markel, the Pruneyard’s marketing director.
On top of adjustments made in a new world of face masks and social distancing, tenants have banded together on social media and through marketing partnerships, shared tables, chairs and patio space, all in the name of survival, she said.
“I was doing my monthly marketing meetings via Zoom with them (tenants) and we talked about the importance of just liking each other’s posts and sharing each other’s Facebook — things to help get the word out there,” Markel said. “Many of them are helping each other out.”
The Pruneyard management has pitched in as well, getting permission from the city to close the main road that cuts through the middle of the complex until early October so customers can spread out.
“The roadway became the walkway,” Markel said. “We don’t put tables or chairs or anything out there, but it lets the customers who are walking with strollers or walking with their dog or walking before they go eat dinner, they have plenty of social distancing to do that.”
At the upscale Pruneyard Cinemas, which combines movies with fancy cuisine and drinks, management has moved the dining outside and movies to a streaming service.
When Linda Le had to shutter Blossom Nail Spa for five months because of COVID-19 restrictions, she asked customers to send nail measurements to her technicians, who painted custom designs from home and mailed them to their clients. Le’s business is now operating indoors and outdoors.
Nicole Bensing of Board & Brush opened her business, which specializes in teaching wood design, just seven weeks before the pandemic exploded and shut everything down in the spring.
To keep some revenue coming in, her company’s corporate office provided home kits to offer customers. Bensing said her studio also sold pre-made wooden signs because customers couldn’t come in to make their own.
“We made a couple of sales,” Bensing said. “But it was enough to cover the phone bill, not anything else.”
Things are looking up, though, and Bensing has been given the OK to set up two tables on a covered patio in front of her studio for small workshops. And this past week, her store partnered with neighboring Kyoto Palace, a Japanese steakhouse, for what Bensing called a “make-and-take” event in a shared patio space. Bensing’s customers could do wood workshops while ordering Japanese food.
“That allows us to have a bigger event space so we can have more than eight people, and we can socially distance groups a little bit better,” she said. “And it allows some people to be introduced to Kyoto Palace that have never been there. Who would have thought Board & Brush, wood signs, and Kyoto Palace would ever merge together? But here we are. Their sushi is amazing.”
They’re not the only Pruneyard businesses teaming up. Dan Orloff of Pruneyard Cinemas and Cedar Room, the bar adjacent to the movie complex, said he has met with Trudy’s Brides about possibly doing wedding receptions or even a ceremony at the movie theater. They could also bring the Pruneyard’s Doubletree Hotel into the mix, Orloff added.
“We’re talking about turning Pruneyard into a fun destination where whether it’s a bachelorette party, a bachelor party, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, whatever, that the guests and (hosts) can, in essence, migrate around the center and turn it into a real event,” Orloff said. “That’s what makes us unique. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved with a collection of businesses that are so eager to find ways to work together.”
Even when her nail business was closed for five months, Le said she continued to support her business neighbors.
“We always give a shout out,” she said. “Our customers really enjoy it here. They can get their nails done, go to Luna (Mexican Kitchen) for lunch, grab coffee in the morning at Peet’s. There’s Trudy’s Brides. We have customers that are getting married and want to get their nails done. It’s convenient, a one-stop-shop for everybody.”
Orloff can’t open his seven indoor movie theaters because of COVID-19 restrictions but is offering customers first-run independent films that can be streamed for an average of $10 to $12 per movie for up to seven days. Pruneyard Cinemas also has partnered with Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga for drive-in movies at the art facility, Orloff said.
In the early days of the pandemic, Jenny Bernabe of Tin Pot Creamery said her business took orders by phone or online to stay open.
“That was very difficult because people just didn’t know whether we were even open in the first place,” said Bernabe, who has stores in the South Bay and Peninsula. “We did that for a very short time, and then we started opening based on the restrictions. Each location was different. Every week it was like different things happening. We had to be right on top of the ordinances.
“It was a little frustrating. But at that point, we couldn’t afford to close. We still needed the business to operate. But in the long run, I think it’s kind of what saved us. A lot of the customers kept saying, ‘I am so glad you’re open.’ Obviously, we’re not back to where we were previously. But we’re at a comfortable level that we’re doing OK, and we’re not like bleeding money.”
Markel, the marketing director, spoke with pride as she listed the numerous ways retailers have stayed afloat. She noted that Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brew and Doubletree Hotel loaned Kyoto Palace tables, chairs and umbrellas because the restaurant could not move its Teppanyaki grills and tables outside.
“The tenants have all done an amazing job,” she said.