Business Monday: Even the clothes are quarantined in Aspen

The wide-sweeping tentacles of the coronavirus pandemic seemingly touch all aspects of everyday life, including dressing rooms in clothing stores.

Ute Mountaineer in downtown specializes in products and gear for the outdoors, including clothing customers privately try on in its fitting rooms. When that happens, store employees — using Post-It notes — tag the clothing articles sampled by customers and quarantine them.

Clothing that touches hard surfaces or contains certain hard materials is set aside for 72 hours. That’s because the novel coronavirus can live as many as two to three days on hard surfaces depending on a variety of factors ranging from temperature to surface type.

Whatever the case, Ute Mountaineer store manager Dan Schreck said the shop takes extra precautions to ease consumer fears and play it safe. A good portion of the clothing it sells contains plastic and metal — which can be contaminated with the virus for as long as 72 hours, a study from the New England Journal of Medicine found.

Other clothing will be set aside for 24 hours after being steamed, Schreck said.

“If people are trying on clothes, which we obviously encourage, we ask them not to pull 15 different things,” he said.

For the clothes they do try on but don’t buy, customers are asked to leave them in the dressing room for employees to collect, clean and set aside.

With the pandemic has come consumer trepidation concerning the use of dressing rooms. CNBC, citing results of a survey by the retail predictive analytics company First Insight, reported May 11 that 65% of women polled said they would not feel safe sampling clothes in a dressing room. Fifty-four percent of the male respondents expressed similar reservations.

Pitkin County Dry Goods also steams its clothes that have been tried on and sets the articles aside for at least 24 hours, said Tyler Moore, who manages the men’s side of the store.

“It’s not required,” Moore said. “It’s just something we’ve been doing so everyone feels safer and people have confidence in the dressing room.”

Clothing stores were allowed to open under Pitkin County’s Phase 1 reopening May 9. In a public meeting days before Phase 1’s implementation, the Pitkin County Board of Health said returning clothing is not allowed. Whether dressing rooms are used is at the retailer’s discretion.

Kemo Sabe, the purveyor of Western wear in downtown Aspen, doesn’t have a fitting room but it sells plenty of cowboy hats.

“If people want to try on a hat, they do an alcohol swab on their foreheads,” said Sam Purcell, the store’s HR director. “And if they don’t want to, we will do it.”

Store employees stay busy sanitizing jewelry and other items, Purcell said. Hand sanitizer is placed at high-traffic work stations in the store, she said, and they follow a strict cleaning schedule.

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