Copies, Conversation and Homemade Jam
Salt Lake Store Owner Embraces "Mayberry" Business Model during COVID-19
Utahn Darrin Fox should have shut up his shop during Utah's pandemic lockdown, but his customers convinced him that they needed him. So, with his wife he made homemade jam to sell and got creative about how to keep his small store, Desert Fox Graphics and Printing, open through the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When [COVID-19] hit, I thought, 'this is it. This is the time to close up shop and work exclusively online," said Fox, explaining that he does 80 percent of his business remotely. "But I didn't because of my clients."
Fox pauses, laughs, then exclaims, "Heck, I have a client that still drives up here from Tooele!"
Tooele is 24 miles away with copy stores in between—more laughter follows as he shakes his head. Fox's laughter might have something to do with his loyal following. Tan, dressed in a polo shirt and a lanyard holding Ray-Ban sunglasses, he's dressed to hang out with friends, or to put up a "gone fishing" sign in a moment's notice. And he does that—with shorter store hours nowadays.
"Ever been to Fish Lake?" he asks behind the window, about the namesake of the Fishlake National Forest in south-central Utah. "I always tell people that's where they should go…"
Noticing eyes are not looking at him, but a stack of jam jars, he says, "Ya, Ma Fox's jam, those are my wife's antique jam jars."
The phone rings in the back of the store and he quickly cuts through a partition to visit with Rose, his graphic designer. From the front of the store, his relaxed tone is reminiscent of Floyd, a character in the 1960s television show "Andy Griffith." Floyd, a barbershop owner in Mayberry, a fictional North Carolina town depicting a utopian small community, also took time aside from business to chat and laugh with friends.
"Ya, we were up at Fish Lake all last week," Fox tells Rose. "But you know the fishing just wasn't good this time."
He doesn't seem worried about leaving people alone to browse the display cases up front, filled with his wife's state fair award-winning crafts, draped in purple sweepstakes ribbons. The stack of jam jars give the appearance of a game on the fair midway. One could imagine that with a ball, they could knock them down for a prize.
A Space of Their Own
"My wife's friend asked if she could sell her crafts here, then she wanted to also," Fox says as he returns from the back of the store. "Pretty soon, everyone on our street wanted to do it and I had to tell them no, I don't have the space."
Many of Fox' clients have a "space" in his shop though—in post office boxes that take up the west wall. He made a decision to include those when he opened the store, which allowed him to declare his store now as an "essential business." And that kept him open during Utah's pandemic lockd(own. The boxes are especially essential to Julia Barker, an Avon representative. When Fox found out people were stealing her deliveries off her porch, he suggested she have her packages delivered to the store. When her schedule conflicted with store hours and it was difficult for her to pick them up, Fox arranged for her to pick them up outside of business hours.
"But I would ONLY do that for her," he said.
Barker said that she built that relationship by always leaving money to pay for the storage of her boxes when they wouldn't fit in the postal box.
"I think that's why he felt he could help me this way," said Barker. "He'd always carry my boxes to the car for me and take time to visit—he's just a super nice guy that can start up a conversation about anything."
While his clients keep his doors open now, Fox recognizes that likely won't last.
"Digital business has been growing for some time and shrinking store fronts for a while now," said Fox. "COVID-19 is just speeding up that process now."
In the meantime, in the age of social distancing, curbside and pick-up, Fox keeps his clients close and says he profits from maintaining those relationships.
"You can't put a price or dollar figure on something like that," he says.
Photos by Linda T. Kennedy