My Personal Letter For Our Local Community

I wrote this heartfelt and open letter, which comes from many perspectives, sharing my thoughts on our local community in light of what we are currently facing...

Late last night, as I was walking my dog after the day’s announcements made by the City of Philadelphia, it felt so surreal to walk past all the establishments in my neighborhood that are now closed. It was an eerie feeling but at the same time so peaceful. With everything that’s going on in Philly and the world, it’s giving us time to reflect, as well as to commiserate on how all of this will affect us emotionally, physically, and financially.
I know, as a community we will fight strong and get through this, that’s how Philly is. In the meantime, many of us will face hardships and have to make sacrifices and to help others in need. 
On a personal note, in January I flew to Cyprus to celebrate my mother’s 83rd birthday and in February I went to Milan for MICAM the largest shoe trade show in the world. A few days after I arrived back in Philly, the announcements were made that Milan was badly affected by COVID-19. I was in disbelief, shock, so upset and was trying not to panic! I decided to self-quarantine myself for 14-days. Fast-forward four-weeks later, and the situation is affecting my whole family. My mother is in isolation in her flat in Cyprus (all alone), my son and his girlfriend (both in the restaurant business so they are not making any money right now) who are expecting their second baby in October and my 2-year granddaughter (they live around the corner from me) are keeping to themselves, my sister is working from home in Brooklyn, my boyfriend lives in Montgomery County and they were the first to be hit in Pennsylvania, and I’m in my house with my dog and cat. As a family, we are not able to be together for fear that we will spread the virus.
There are many instances here in Philly and all over the world where families have been separated, so we should send everyone positive thoughts!
As my shoe boutique in Philly BUS STOP is about to turn 13 (next month) I feel as a small business owner that this is the scariest time to temporarily close my doors. BUS STOP was one of the first non-fabric businesses to revitalize historic Fabric Row (the street was recently voted best shopping destination by Philly Mag). When I first opened my doors, I had to deal with the blow of the 2007-2008 recession but I was able to survive! We've seen a lot of economic change over the years. It's been dynamic. Some years have been stronger than others. But we've never felt a more jarring impact of uncertainty than we have this week with the developing news of COVID-19.
To protect my customers, my staff, my family and my community, I chose to temporarily close before the City announced on 3/16 that only essential commercial establishments should remain open. In solidarity with my fellow Philly small business owners and to help stop the spread of this debilitating pandemic, that was the most important thing for us collectively to do.
But personally it feels like such an uncertain time for my business and other small businesses that I love and value. This uncertainty challenges the livelihood and sustainability of our vibrant, diverse, creative community of local businesses. Indy boutiques, cafes, restaurants, venues are compromised right now. 
As a shoe designer, and women's shoe boutique owner, I understand that boutique shopping can feel like a luxury to some. But I believe that our presence in the local economy is crucial to the cultural landscape. We make Philly, well, Philly. Our small spaces bring a lot of joy and offer respite and retail therapy to our city dwellers. Our customers are our friends. The relationships we foster in our spaces build community and unity throughout the city. I feel that is invaluable to our quality of life and collective vibrancy. These businesses add so much to the cultural landscape of Philadelphia. The diversity and eclectic neighborhoods all over Philly, and businesses like Yowie, Lobo Mau, Ritual Ritual, Geisha House, Downerss just to mention a few have shared similar sentiments to ours over the last week. Our spaces encourage tourists to not only visit our vibrant city, but experience what we have to offer and grow our local economy. A healthy strong economy feeds and nurtures our citizens. 
As news unfolded over the last few days, I've lost sleep over having to make the tough decision to stay open for my business to stay afloat or to temporarily close to protect my community.
The current political and economic uncertainty has already taken a toll on our local economy, even before the presence of COVID-19. Honestly, the thought of closing for 2 weeks scares me. "Will we make it?" crosses my mind. It's been week-by-week (even day-by-day) for a lot of *amazing* Philly local small businesses. Don't let the glitz of Instagram fool you from this reality: it's tough out there for most independent entrepreneurs. We have so many incredible, innovative, resilient businesses in Philly, but it's been tough meeting our bottom line recently. When I decided to quietly stay open and had a surprisingly decent afternoon of sales this Sunday after a few months of low sales (some days with no sales at all), it was difficult to make the decision to close for 2 weeks. I've built a modest online presence but my loyal customer base is what allows the boutique to thrive. I truly rely on sales from foot traffic and destination shoppers to my brick and mortar for sales, so closing my doors is scary, but putting the city at risk is of course, even scarier. 
As we come together for a greater, crucial cause in this global crisis, we need the support of our local community more than ever. We cannot survive this crisis without support and patronage. We need your support more than ever. Our local businesses and our employees are faced with scary uncertainty and face major loss and economic fragility with two plus weeks of mandatory brick and mortar closures while we stay home and quarantine. And, it could be even longer as the City of Philadelphia has not determined a precise end date to the mandatory business closures announced March 16.
It feels very vulnerable to share how I feel but I share all this sincerely to offer suggestions on how we can help our favorite small businesses in this monumental unprecedented crisis:
  • Follow along on social media and share posts from your favorite small businesses. It's free and it's helpful to bring awareness to our situation.  
  • Regularly visit online shops to help combat damaging store losses during this time. Shop from home (if you have the funds).
  • Purchase e-gift cards to go towards employee payroll expenses for days closed and lost. 
  • Explore the idea of a virtual donate button or “tip jar” for individuals to donate to local businesses (who can’t or prefer not to buy goods) so that employees salaries can be paid during this closure.
I truly believe to keep the local economy strong during this time, customer support remotely is invaluable and online store visits will help us all immensely. Personal donations to your favorite small biz, freelancers and creatives is key in helping keep businesses afloat as we stay committed to protecting our customers and employees by temporarily closing our doors to our brick and mortars. 

Please stay home and support from home, show love from home, shop from home. Be safe. We will get through this!