Chicago-area remote learning shift affecting 'back-to-school businesses' amid coronavirus pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Brighton Park uniform store is feeling the shift to e-learning, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With thousands of students learning from home, fewer are buying back-to-school items, such as uniforms.

Zemsky's uniform store is usually busy this time of year, but after the pandemic and now that some school districts in the area have initially shifted to remote learning, it's looking a lot different.

"Typically it's pretty crowded in the store, so it's a little hard for us to see," said Judy Greenberg, the store owner.

Sam Greenberg agreed.

"We have multiple registers going. There are lines to the back of the store, lines out the front door. It's disconcerting to see it so quiet," he said.

The Greenbergs are the third-generation owners of the family school uniform business, started back in 1958.

This fall was expected to be one of their busiest and most profitable seasons until Chicago Public Schools announced their school year would begin online.

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"Typically this is a busier time of year for us because people are thinking about back-to-school. We're just trying to regroup," Judy said.

After voluntarily shutting down in March when COVID-19 first began to spread and the state struggled to reopen, plenty of uncertainty remains among shoppers.

"They're allowing the masks for now, but we don't know what's got to happen in the next month or so," shopper Roberto Veria said.

Catholic schools and some charter schools in the area are expected to start the year with in-person learning.

The neighborhood retailer is shifting gears, by not only offering remote learning materials like learning mats and workbooks, but also a layaway option and 20% off purchases.

"It's a way of helping families out," Sam said. "Eventually kids are going to have to go back to school. They are going to need uniforms."

Zemsky's has four locations In the Chicago area, employing close to 50 workers. Safety protocols include face shields and masks, hand sanitizer and constant cleaning.

"We want people to feel safe coming in here," Judy said. "We want them to not worry, like, sometimes you're not sure when you go into a place that has a lot of people."

Meanwhile, as tough as it is, Judy and Sam Greenberg say one of the keys to selling is to keep the doors open.

"We're surviving. We're survivors," Sam said.
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