I let the store’s 4th birthday pass this weekend without acknowledgment or celebratory sale like previous years. It didn't feel right for a few reasons that I don't feel inclined to explain right now.
People are so kind to ask how the store is doing in all of this, and the short(er) answer is two-fold:
1) really well all things considered and in comparison to some other small businesses I know.
2) what it takes to survive is at least double my energy and awareness output for equal or slightly less money coming in.
That’s the truth. And I bet most small biz owners would say the same. For example, a few weeks ago I was deliriously busy all day with a steady stream of customers, but never too many at one time so I didn't have to navigate the social distancing thing too heavily (a major stressor). Simultaneously merchandising, cleaning, buying, updating the website, paying bills, receiving deliveries, etc. I even managed to pop over to open Teeny Bee while it was closed at customer's requests to ring up a few sales (that's the fun sort of multi-tasking). My store is open 5 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was a 9 hour day. My energy output felt like that of a $1200 day, which would've been slightly above average for a pre-Covid Friday. Daily sales total = $600. Literally 1/2 the dollars. Now, I never balk at a $600 day, especially in Rona Land, I am beyond grateful. For reference, the store needs to average $500/day, six 8-hour days per week in order break even. The store is doing ok. I am burnt out. There is no end in sight to this, and more factors keep adding to the uncertainty.
By end of May, I was so fatigued applying for grants I would likely not even get, I all but gave up entirely. Still applying for a few here and there, but nothing like the first 2 months. Oh yeah, financial aid. Let's talk about that.
The $10,000 EIDL grant that was being distributed supposedly in '3 days' took *2 months. And it wasn't a grant, it was a loan. A long-term, low-interest, $35,000 loan that allowed me to roll up several high-interest loans to reduce my monthly payments and make bill paying slightly more bearable. The grant portion allotted me $1,000 vs $10,000, but hey, money is money so thank you very much.
I survived those first 2 months by continuing to go into the store 6 days/week during quarantine to
- manage incoming product, pivoting to all casual clothing when possible and finding other lockdown-friendly items to sell online
- keep up on instagram posts, DMs, emails
- move all product to the website
- pack and mail orders
- apply for loans and grants
be available for curbside pick-up
All of that and more would've been nothing if it'd fallen on unaware customers. People STEPPED UP to keep me in business. You know who you are. THANK YOU.
Unlike other super-humans, I did not suddenly have children at home to school or any other obligations for that matter. I was able to throw 100% of my time and energy into saving the business. How so many have dealt with illness, schooling, other jobs, etc. on top of social isolation and business ownership is beyond my comprehension.
Earlier on, I received a private donation of $1500 from a small business owner I don't even know other than online. She simply felt my pain, had excess, and wanted to help me out. I promised her I'd pay it forward by catching up on orders from the small, female-owned brands in the queue. Her generosity was so inspiring and I told her that someday I would be the one giving help instead of receiving it. #goals
In June, I was granted $2500 by lottery from Midway United Fund (for Hamline Midway and Union Park districts). When I applied for the grant, I specified that 100% of those funds would go toward my rent (just shy of 1 month's rent), and that's exactly what it did. Breathe.
I was NOT eligible for the PPP loan, period. But that's been such a shit show I can't even be mad about it. Not for myself, anyway. I'm glad for the small businesses who got it and are making the best of it. Rock on, brave friends.
I might not even write stuff like this if just for customers. I realized early on that it’s sort of taboo to address business struggles publicly, but if I’m going to cheer ‘transparency’ and ‘people over profit’ in my business, then I should do that in all ways possible. Staying quiet in my own miserable bubble doesn't help me or anyone. It's better to commiserate, collaborate, share resources, compare notes, and shop and promote each other's stores whenever possible. Otherwise, we're all just wandering around exhausted, alone, wondering what we're doing wrong, ready to give up.
I don't have a crystal ball, but it's probably not going to get easier as we approach school and flu season. Should there be another lockdown, I don't want to be so wrecked like I was in March (April, May). I'm not panicked, just thinking ahead, being realistic. Back at the grant applications.
Though it all remains really stupidly hard, I'm about 2.5 months past feeling sorry for myself. The worldwide outcry for racial justice and equality that resurfaced from the murder of George Floyd only miles away from me in Minneapolis has put a whole lot into perspective. It needs to be centerstage. Some of the same systems that keep businesses like mine from thriving (capitalism, patriarchy) are the same ones holding down Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It's all connected. We're all connected. Year 4 is about that and little else. Head up, eyes open, marching forward, literally.