As businesses struggle to reel in customers, Kelly High, who owns High-Brehm Western Wear on North Navarro Street, cast the bait of toilet paper rolls.

“You buy any boot and you get a free roll,” High said.

A sign outside the shop advertises the offer. High said a picture of the sign has received more than 50,000 views on Facebook.

“It was just to try to lighten up a little and have a little fun,” he said. “The hardest part was getting a hold of the toilet paper – it wouldn’t be any good if we couldn’t follow through.”

That’s not the only unusual measure area business owners have taken to try to draw customers as retail chains across the country are closing down and the new coronavirus continues to spread.

Eveline Bethune, who owns Texian Books, Melvins Menswear and Bethune & Son, said she has been working to put her entire stock of clothing for sale online. She said the online inventory should be complete by the end of the week.

Bethune said the move is intended to mitigate the effects of decreased traffic caused by fear of contracting the new coronavirus. She said traffic on Monday was only 25% of what it was one week earlier.

Bethune said the store will remain open until further notice, but that it has been following the CDC’s recommendation to limit gatherings to fewer than 50. She also said it wouldn’t create an issue to follow a new guideline that gatherings should be limited to fewer than 10 people, which was made today by President Trump. She said the number of shoppers in her store rarely exceeds that number.

“It’s been convoluted because we’re having to do this really quickly,” Bethune said. “It’s nobody’s fault; we just have to go with it.”

She said her main priority is keeping her customers safe.

Pat McDonald, owner of Days Gone Bye!, said she’s emphasized her store’s hand-washing station and already thorough hygiene practice online in an attempt to attract customers.

She has also said that she’ll deliver products to customers who send her a message, or call the number listed on her Facebook page.

McDonald urged Victoria residents to shop locally in the next several weeks, and to focus on supporting small businesses.

“It doesn’t take very much to tip them over,” she said.

Jeff Lyon, who was announced on Monday as the Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO, said he found appealing the idea to support local businesses by buying gift cards to be used at a later date.

Although High said the buzz created by the toilet paper advertisement was one benefit, he said the greater joy was the distraction it offered from trying times.

“Everybody’s looking for an edge,” High said. “Yes, it brought business in, but more importantly it’s been fun.”

Morgan O'Hanlon is the business and agriculture reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6328, mohanlon@vicad.com or on Twitter @mcohanlon.

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