Mutual Support Sustains URBAN Traveler, Roseville

Mutual Support Sustains URBAN Traveler, Roseville Main Photo

24 Feb 2022


News, Choose Roseville, Success Stories

With decades of experience in the retail industry, Willy van Dooijeweert has witnessed business ups and downs impacted by many factors, both expected and unexpected. That experience led van Dooijeweert, owner of Roseville’s luggage and travel goods store URBAN Traveler, to react quickly in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As business owners, we had two choices: close the store or pivot the business model,” he said. “We chose to pivot to supplying PPE and that kept us in business, thanks to the support of the Roseville community.”

Today, van Dooijeweert and his wife, Linda Hashimoto van Dooijeweert, continue to run URBAN Traveler as one of the oldest retail operations in Roseville, having started the business in 1986 and at its current location in Rosedale Commons since 2008. 

For more than 35 years, van Dooijeweert has grown and adapted URBAN Traveler to be Minnesota’s most complete travel goods and luggage specialty retailer by meeting the needs of national and international travelers. Today, the store offers much more than luggage, with 10,000 products like travel clothing, travel fashion accessories, PPE and more. It is also the only permanent luggage store in the area that will repair luggage, briefcases and other travel gear regardless of where it was purchased. 

Pandemic Pivot

Businesses everywhere were seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the travel industry was hit especially hard. URBAN Traveler sales plummeted to basically zero in March 2020, as its prime customers, Baby Boomers and those 50 years of age or older, could not or dared not travel. While a typical month saw 1,000 customers, that period saw only about three or four per day.

“We quickly responded to customer requests and were fortunate to rapidly expand our PPE offering, flying masks to the store overnight,” said van Dooijeweert. “We utilized the good relationships we had in the PPE industry, having purchased masks for years for local travelers to Asia.”

From cloth and N95 masks made in the U.S. and KN95 masks produced internationally, van Dooijeweer made personal deliveries, driving 90% of their business to PPE by May 2020. Today, he carries 6,000 types of PPE from 89 different manufacturers in the store. 

 

Mutual Support

Roseville MN New, Urban TravelersRelationships have been the underlying theme for van Dooijeweert’s longevity with success at URBAN Traveler. While many customers from across the country call on him for their needs, van Dooijeweert said it is the friendly Roseville residents and the City of Roseville itself that has led to his ultimate success. 

“Our local customers are extremely loyal and they enjoy our location near one of the most successful malls in the Twin Cities,” he said. “The surrounding business owners are very supportive, sending customers to each other.”

The importance of that supportive nature is not lost on van Dooijeweert. He routinely performs travel presentations for groups like AAA and the Chamber of Commerce, while eagerly participating in annual community events like the Rosefest Parade, Festival of Nations and Japanese Lantern Lighting in Como Park. He donates to local schools and seeks to hire employees from Roseville Area High School and local colleges. 

“Part of being a community store is giving back to the community,” he said. “We are happy to do that and contribute to the development of a city where everyone can enjoy and feel safe to live and work here.”

Optimistic Future

While luggage sales were still down 50% at the first half of 2021, the end of the year was more comparable to that prior to the pandemic. Sales doubled in January 2022, thanks to national recognition following a local television feature story on the store. One recent Sunday morning, van Dooijeweert found a line of 50 customers waiting at their door prior to opening and he has had to hire extra staff to process the orders for thousands of N95 and KN95 masks, all of which leaves him optimistic about the future. He is encouraged by the retail growth surrounding the URBAN Traveler location, such as the recent opening of the nearby Schneiderman’s Furniture. Even with all the changes the past 35-plus years have held, he is eager to embrace more change. 

“Our luggage sales are making a comeback and the travel industry overall is in the midst of a very interesting transition,” he said. “We are doing a lot of repairs now because people want to travel and we are seeing a lot more young customers, so the future is exciting indeed.” 

The Roseville Economic Development Authority (REDA) coordinates and administers economic development and redevelopment initiatives for the City of Roseville, MN. It serves as a comprehensive resource for businesses seeking to startup and grow in the area. In addition to prioritizing business retention and expansion, the REDA connects area employers with the dedicated and talented workforce they need to succeed and thrive.