Michigan is re-engaging the economy and small business owner Jen Eastridge is reigniting people’s joy.
YPSILANTI, MI — There’s joy to be found inside downtown Ypsilanti’s Unicorn Feed & Supply. And just when it’s needed most, it’s back open for shoppers, 10 appointments at a time.
It’s all part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest executive order to allow retailers across Michigan to re-engage eager customers.
Owner Jen Eastridge has played it safe following Whitmer’s guidelines and kept her closed-up business afloat by engaging her shoppers digitally. Now, she’s welcoming people back in.
“People say, ‘So you’re a feed store, right?’” said Eastridge, who first opened the dazzling, whimsical shop in June 2018 — during Pride Month, as she happily noted. She’s driven by a foundational mission to help both children and grown-ups alike “feed their unicorn.”
“Well, no. We play on that figurative idea that feeding your unicorn is feeding your happy place, that kind of happy, magical place that lives inside each of us,” she said. “We also have an underlying mission to move the dialogue forward on what it is to be happy and to love and be loved.”
That focus on inclusivity shines in the store’s stock, which features a dedicated Pride section, a diverse selection of fantastical toys and accessories, gorgeous plush, and pins and stickers ranging from the punny to the political (and those descriptors aren’t mutually exclusive).
When the state went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Eastridge saw it as an opportunity to help people feed unicorns that might otherwise go hungry.
While customers quarantined at home, Unicorn Feed & Supply offered virtual video shop calls via Facebook and Google Duo as well as the option to purchase curated gift bags online.
“I kicked into a full tilt boogie,” she said. “It was interesting because this kind of pushed me to come up with some creative ideas to fill a need that was already there. I didn’t even realize.
“… It’s been a real gift to talk and really get to know people who I have had these shopping calls with. I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Thank you so much, I have mobility issues and I have a hard time getting out into shops.’ And I had another customer who said this was an opportunity for people who already had compromised immune systems who couldn’t go out before the pandemic hit.
“There’s this wide range of people who suddenly are being given options because the rest of the world has to feel a little bit of what they’re feeling.”
Eastridge is bringing that same empathy to appointment shoppers now that Unicorn Feed & Supply is able to open its doors to up to 10 people at any given time, starting with her own personal protective equipment.
“Right now I’m excited because we have masks that I had made by a local seamstress that have a clear panel on the front, because I feel like seeing people’s mouths is important,” she said. She had the masks commissioned to allow customers who are deaf or hard of hearing read her and the staff’s lips, but also so customers could see them smiling.
“We kind of have to say, ‘I’m smiling under here!’” she said. “Now they’ll actually get to see a smile, which is important, and actually understand what we’re saying, which is even more important.”
Even though she had gone to such lengths to prepare a safe, accessible and riotously happy experience for customers on May 26, she admitted she still had some trepidation come reopening day.
“I was a little worried about some of the playfulness and some of the joy that we try to have happen,” she said. “That’s our main goal, that you leave happier than you were when you came in.”
After six shoppers walked away from successful appointments laden with sparkly goodies, stickers and candy, she was able to say that the magic still happened.
“That makes me really happy,” said Eastridge. “It was a really good introduction and soft opening. Everybody was respectful and wore their masks the whole time.
“It was cool because people were singing along to the happy music playing, just seeing those little triggers of happiness happen. I was like, yes, that’s what we’re about. It’s still working. Awesome.”
Changes in circumstance certainly didn’t deter customers from a beloved Unicorn Feed & Supply tradition: taking selfies with shop greeter/unicorn Reginald Peppercorn, who responsibly sports his own fashionable face mask at the front of the store.
“I love that people are able to come in and find their happy place,” said Eastridge. “I had one of my customers yesterday say that she suffers from anxiety and she hasn’t left the house, and so coming into the shop was a major, major thing. I thanked her. I appreciate the honor of being chosen as one of the places she was willing to go. And she said, ‘Well, I always have so much fun and I’m always so happy when I come in.’
“So I like that even if they’re coming out and taking a risk, they know that they’re coming in to fill their cup. They’re coming in to feed that happy place, their unicorn. And that’s a gift that is perfect.”