Robin Bielefeld, retail clerk at Cooke Stationery, helps a customer on Wednesday, Jan. 6. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

 

As the pandemic drags on, businesses in downtown Salem are struggling. Restaurants are hit especially hard, as they can't open their doors and pack their tables with paying customers.

Cooke Stationery can't change the course of the pandemic. But the staff also didn't want to watch their neighbors suffer.

"I started thinking about what I could do to help out the downtown businesses, especially the restaurants. If it's hard for us, it's triple hard for them," said Robin Bielefeld, retail clerk at Cooke Stationery.

Bielefeld brainstormed and brought her ideas to Colleen Henery, co-owner of Cooke Stationery, downtown at 370 State St.

"We had fewer customers, so we had more time on our hands. You can only stock and dust the shelves for so long," Henery said. "I just thought, 'Why not!' It's better than sitting around and being depressed about having no customers. We might as well do something."

On Nov. 6, Cooke Stationery launched the inaugural Downtown Salem Cozy Walk with 25 local businesses participating, including neighboring businesses Wild Pear and Taproot Restaurant and Café.

Customers could make a purchase at any participating business and walk away with a punch card. If they filled that card punches from other participating businesses before Dec. 24, they got a $5 discount at any of them.

Bielefeld did all the organizing, creating the punch cards and posters for the event too. She asked participants to post about the event on social media, but that was her only request.

"I tried to make it as simple as possible," she said. "Sometimes, campaigns get a little too complicated. I didn't want it to turn into a thing, because especially if you're running a restaurant, there's so much going on."

Measuring the financial impact is difficult, but Bielefeld was pleased with the event.

"If nothing else, it got a lot of downtown businesses talking to each other on social media and supporting each other," she said.

Bielefeld has run Cooke Stationery's social media channels for about two years. In March, she started sprinkling her traditional posts with notes about other businesses. She continues that work.

In November, she shared information about Wild Pear's Thanksgiving meals. The Wild Pear Instagram team wrote this in response, "You're the BEST neighbor! Thank you, Cooke's, a longtime Salem community member and builder. We are all lucky to have you in our community."

"I think it's good to support each other and to help our followers know more about what's happening in downtown," Bielefeld said.

Cooke Stationery also encourages local restaurants to bring their menus into the shop. The team pastes them inside the store's front windows, so casual shoppers might stop and browse.

Bielefeld also reached out to Free Fridge Salem to host a drop box for donations. She created the organization's logo and worked up stickers for them, too.

"Times have been so tough. I've been working all through the pandemic, but I haven't seen my family for a long time. I have to be really careful. And it's hard not to feel depressed or sad," Bielefeld said. "The idea that I can help other people has helped me emotionally. Maybe that's a selfish thing, but it made me feel less upset and angry. It made me feel better."

"I'm trying to think of something else, because after the holidays, we have to make sure people keep shopping," she said.

Cooke Stationery has been part of downtown Salem since 1935, and Henery is a third-generation family member operating that store. This year hasn't been easy.

Students from Willamette University no longer drop by to try pens and pick up paper. And the corporate portion of the business, in which staffers take office supplies to local offices, has been suspended as more people work from home.

"We're down about 25%, so that's been hard. But we're fortunate that we remain open," she said.

Henery hopes more people will stop by to stock up on supplies for their home offices.

"We are very eclectic. You'll find things here that you won't find anywhere else," she said. "We have some longtime customers, that's for sure. But there's something about office supplies that the young folks seem to like. It's nice to have the young crowd as well as the old standbys."

Cooke Stationery is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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