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Coming Back from the Edge

Dan Daley • July 2020The Last Word • June 30, 2020

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

The COVID-19 virus is going to be around for a while, varying only in its intensity. That means there are some new realities that have to be integrated into our thinking. As retailers begin to reopen after local governments pull back on their lockdowns, MI shop owners will face some specific challenges particular to this business.

First and foremost, COVID-19 puts into stark relief exactly how social an industry this is. An MI store’s leading advantage over online sales is its ability to offer a tactile experience to shoppers.

Literally everything in the store is meant to be handled, touched, felt, picked up, poked, and fondled. Suddenly, this central pleasure of musical instruments has become a potential point of infection.

So in addition to cleaning and disinfecting all of the surfaces in the store, its inventory has to undergo the same constant cleaning, after each customer places fingers on it.

That can get rather specific. Guitars are cradled and strummed, exposing their largest sides to contagion, and an alcohol wipe needs to be applied as soon as an axe is put down. But that also needs to be followed immediately by a dry wipe, lest the alcohol mar the finish. Plus, a prospective buyer will want to tune every guitar, so each peg also needs to be cleaned.

Brass and woodwind instruments are perhaps the most intimate ones. They can be cleaned with warm, soapy water and a purpose-made instrument brush that will get any debris out of the horn, to prevent cross contamination. Mouthpiece hygiene is essential. Clean the mouthpiece with warm hot, soapy water and a mouthpiece brush. The UK’s Music Industries Association recommends to not use bleach or any sterilizing fluid as this can damage the mouthpiece.

NAMM has a fairly comprehensive tutorial for this process up on its website now (including a useful distinction between isopropyl and rubbing alcohol). It also emphasizes a practice that’s unfortunate but likely necessary: quarantining instruments between test rides. It’s still a bit of a guesstimate as to how long the virus can exist on various types of surfaces: estimates include one to four hours on metal surfaces, 24 hours on cardboard and paper, and a couple of days on plastic and other hard surfaces.

So in addition to cleaning the instruments, they should be set aside for at least a few hours, if not a few days. Obviously, stores need to keep plenty of sanitizing materials on-hand for customers and staff. These are necessary not only for personal hygiene but also for a shop’s financial well-being, as a signal to shoppers that you have their best interests at heart.

At this writing another Federal stimulus package is being cobbled together by Congress, and it may or may not include another critical component for retail: a liability waiver that could hold store owners and other vendors and service providers harmless in the event customers become ill as a result of interacting with them. Given COVID-19’s widely variable gestation period of anywhere from a few days to two weeks, it will be difficult to pin a contact to any particular location. However, that is not going to stop a lawyer from trying to, and by nature they will go after whatever target presents the best combination of legal vulnerability and financial return. (While I’m no fan of the legal profession in general, my personal hope is that this particular stipulation is included in the bill but is limited to small business, to avoid large corporations from doing with it what they did with the Payroll Protection Program.)

There is also a fairly high-tech option that more retails stores are deploying: UV-C LED germicidal lamps. Using the light spectrum between 200 and 280 nanometers, the science is straightforward and it works: hospitals and medical facilities have been using UV-C for decades. However, be advised that since the onset of the virus plenty of online UV-C LED products have popped up that claim to be authentic.

Coming back from lockdown is going to be an intricate and stressful proposition from a number of angles. The biggest goal, though, is reassuring customers that it’s OK to come and play. And buy. Make that the priority for reopening.

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