Aside from the heartbreaking exception of Georgia, the world as we knew it is not opening back up to us just yet. Actually, the world as we knew it won’t be around for quite some time, if ever. I should say that this is not a rant about how we shouldn’t return to “normal”, as that was the problem all along. I’ll save that for another time. This is a letter written TO the community at large, wherever you may be, FOR my fellow small business owners. Now, back to my point...
Stores, bars, restaurants, salons - your local, independently-owned businesses have worked and are working their way through immense hardship. Most any business that does get to open their doors to the public again “after” this will have done so as a result of no small amount of ingenuity and grit. Circumstances were abnormal, so the solutions often were too. It has not been business as usual for some time, and that switch will not flip the moment States allow us to welcome you into our spaces again.
This is going to look like any number of “unprofessional” symptoms: bars will be understaffed, stores will have blank spots on their shelves or go long periods without reordering new products, restaurants will have abbreviated menus with shorter lists of ingredients, your hair stylist may not be able to get your color or favorite product for a month after the onslaught of appointments they took upon reopening.
Right now, the North Carolina government is making plans for just how we gradually reopen our communities again. Though there is no date on the table yet, that is both a thrilling and terrifying thought. Obviously I want nothing more than to sit at the checkout in my store and watch people file in, discover the world of dish washing without plastic, and leave with an entire sink-side setup. But the past two month’s disrupted cash flow has very real side effects for Ware’s ability to restock products in a timely manner, and some version of that reality is true for just about every business with considerable overhead.
Business owners are painfully aware that this may look bad, that we won’t be presenting the professional and put-together front we were once able to. Most of us will open anyway and muddle through.
It is a great thing to ask your local boutique if they have the socks you love in stock, because you paced holes in the bottoms of your old ones while in your home for weeks on end. If they have them, they’ll be grateful you asked with them first. However, it spreads no small amount of distress for them to be on the receiving end of your frustration when they have to tell you they don’t have any at the moment. Trust me when I say that that store owner’s frustration over not being able to make that much-needed sale far outweighs yours. And it is just one such complication in a long list of hurdles and disappointments in reopening after such a financially and logistically trying time.
Any amount of sympathy and understanding you can spread to your local entrepreneurs and their employees when you meet them again will be received with a grateful heart. If you are eager to try a new coffee order when one of the main ingredients to your regular mix is back ordered, your favorite barista will jump at the opportunity to broaden your horizons. If your lunch outing takes twice as long as anticipated, because the servers and kitchen were understaffed, you can do more to correct that problem by tipping well and returning soon than by adding to the emotional and financial burden of the employees and business you love.
While the overwhelm of getting the entire world back on track in a post-Coronavirus economy is legitimate, know that individuals wield significant power in this process. Remember the humans that make up your favorite businesses and how their struggle has not been unlike your own through all of this, but by owning a business it HAS been made much more public. Your words and your money will be more impactful than ever. It will make all the difference to those of us working so hard to be able to provide what our communities are asking for. We’ll get there together. But we’re not “there” yet.
Be well. Be aware.