We are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis for small businesses everywhere, and I am not afraid to admit that I find it scary.  Our shop is closed, like so many others, although for the time being we are able to offer curbside pickup of orders to go. One of our business neighbors, the Wine and Hop Shop, even offered to include our local deliveries in their afternoon route – for free.

This brings to mind the famous quote from Mr. Rogers’ mother about what to do when confronted with scary thing in the news: “Look for the helpers.”  As we get through this, I am touched by the generosity of the Wine and Hop Shop, and by artist Emily Balsley, who created a Monroe Street Strong graphic for our neighborhood to use at no charge.  I see my fellow businesses urging people to order takeout from the restaurants that are still open, and a general sharing of encouragement.

Where can you look for helpers? In addition to your fellow businesses, you can reach out to your community for support.  Keep in touch with your customers, who undoubtedly realize that small businesses will need local patronage more than ever when life returns to normal, and also contact your city or town leaders about what government assistance might be available.

Your bank is also a potential helper. If you don’t already have a line of credit set up, this is a good time to look into this “use it if you need it” type of loan. After all, none of us knows how long we’ll be closed.  You could also get an additional credit card to use in an emergency, but credit card debt is expensive if you can’t pay it off in time.

Have you asked your landlord to help you?  Not everyone is going to get rent relief by asking, but some stores report that they have already gotten a delay in rent, or a reduction. It can’t hurt to ask. Some of our vendors are offering extended payment terms, which is very helpful – especially if you have a large invoice coming due.

The Small Business Administration (sba.gov) has set up a business guide listing the COVID-19 resources available at this time.  More will undoubtedly become available as the scope of this crisis unfolds.  Hopefully some of the assistance will be in the form of aid or tax breaks, since loans may be very difficult to pay back after losing weeks of income.  We’ve received help from our state government regarding unemployment coverage for staff members who are temporarily laid off.  And for a mere $1.05, the U.S. Postal Service will put a temporary order on your store’s mail forwarding it to your home.

You can also be a helper to others in this challenging time. Check with your business neighbors, and also your sales reps, to see how they are doing.  Everyone is suffering from the effects of this shutdown.  And if you are able to get to your store to do so, pay any bills that you have outstanding.  One of the big challenges for our shop at this time is that we are without our bookkeeper, which means that I’m trying to handle this task – but it’s only fair to pay for merchandise that arrived a month ago with Net 30 terms.

We are hoping to slow down the flow of merchandise (and invoices) by contacting our vendors and putting orders on hold temporarily.  We’ve notified them that if there is an order that hasn’t shipped yet, we’d like to be contacted when we’ve reopened – and hope to receive it at that time.

The scariest part of the COVID-19 pandemic is not knowing when it will abate. But we just have to sit with that uncertainty for right now, and do our best to be hopeful that the time will come soon.

Stay well!

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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