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Posted: November 27, 2020 Creating a ‘Feel Good’ Retail Experience on Water Street

“Is it exciting? This whole situation that we're in? You know, certainly not,” said Kim Woodby, describing her experience as a small business owner during COVID, “but I refuse to let this year go out in a bad way. . .I'm just not going to let that happen.”

Woodby owns Willow on Water (Willow), an Eau Claire boutique offering an eclectic mix of goods. The shop specializes in selling home decor, artificial floral, and instant gifts—items that leave the store looking beautiful.

Before Woodby puts anything in her store, she has to personally love it. “I won't sell a candle that I haven't burned myself. . .I won't sell any body products I haven't tried myself,” she said. Woodby’s intentionality is fundamental to the shop’s long-term success at 410 Water Street—open since 1988. “I try and find things that somebody's not going to find somewhere else,” said Woodby, explaining that Willow is a great place to find unique gifts and stocking stuffers.

Located in the 400 block of Water Street, Woodby is in good company. “We're very respectful of each other's businesses,” she said of her neighbors. “Water Street is where I looked to put my store [originally], and it's where I will always choose to have my store.” Given their similarities, Willow on Water frequently collaborates with Avalon Floral, a shop owned by Sandy O’Connell. “If [Sandy] has a new customer in her store tomorrow. . .she will send them right to me, and I do the same for her,” explained Woodby, “We support each other's businesses quite a bit.”

From the music to the complimentary coffee at Willow, Woodby says the atmosphere in her shop is very calm and relaxing. “We get a lot of comments that customers feel good in my store,” said Woodby. While the goal in retail is to make a sale, Woodby said, “...if someone comes in and says to me that they just really enjoyed their experience, that's a huge compliment to me.”

Amid COVID, Willow has adapted its in-store experience to keep people safe. Woodby says masks are non-negotiable. “[Wearing a mask] is the one thing we can do to keep ourselves safe. It's very important to me to keep my employees, my customers, and myself healthy,” shared Woodby. In addition to watching the capacity of the store, Willow is offering private shopping through the holidays.

“People can come in and shop after hours with a group of their friends,” explained Woodby. “I'll even stay open and lock the door for one person if I need to. I just want them to feel safe.” There's always a way to do it, Woodby said, “You just have to do it right.”

Woodby’s decisions during the pandemic stem from a genuine love for her customers and employees. “[My customers] have become very personal to me,” Woodby said. “It was something that I never expected. . .and I attribute that to this area. This area is full of very kind people. And they're very good to local businesses.” If you check out Willow’s online reviews, this feeling is mutual. Customers adore Willow, describing it as magical and therapeutic.

Although this year has been challenging, Woodby says she’s up for the challenge. “Like everyone,” she said, “I just want to get through this year the best that we can.” The holidays are a key time for Willow. “Christmas is on my mind from late spring up until I put [Christmas products] out,” explained Woodby, sharing how her team transforms the store to create a whimsical yet comfortable shopping experience.

At the same time, Woodby knows it's tough to ask people to shop in-store for the holidays this year. “I respect everyone's limits they put on themselves,” she said. If you can’t get out and are looking for something specific, call the shop. Woodby is happy to send photos or videos to help customers buy from home. If you see something you like on Willow’s Facebook, the store offers curbside pickup, local delivery, and shipping.

Whether you’re buying from Willow or not, Woodby urges locals to shop small this holiday season. “There's a lot of small businesses in Eau Claire, a lot. I'd like to see us all survive through this year.”

If you would like to support Willow on Water, it’s the perfect place to find unique gifts, stocking stuffers, hostess gifts, and holiday decorations. With a website and online store in the works, the best place to connect with Willow is on Facebook.

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