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Small businesses during the pandemic: What’s their secret to keep their shops open?

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

One might say small businesses are the backbone of our community. They’re an essential part of local economies, and bring together communities in many ways through their diverse and local products and close relationships with customers. However, what would happen if these businesses were to face a global infection of a deadly disease that pretty much stops all means of business? Sound familiar?

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been hard on lots of businesses. With the number of covid cases increasing day by day and new mutations of this deadly virus continuing to appear, businesses have certainly had it rough. Many companies have released employees and some have even shut down their businesses altogether. According to Yelp, almost 180,000 businesses had temporarily closed due to the pandemic, and as of August 21st of last year, around 100,000 of those businesses are now permanently shut down. Now that we’re moving further into the new year of 2021, studies have shown that there have already been close to 2,000 closures across the U.S., and 10,000 expected for the rest of the year. However, despite it all, there are still some that continue to shine even in the darkest of times.

The topmost concern is how businesses are staying safe and preventing the spread of Covid-19. Ernestine Segura, co-owner of Leaf and Spine, a plant shop in Highland Park, shares how her shop is preventing the spread. “We limit 2 customers to shop at a time in 15 minutes intervals and ask that customers wait in line in our designated waiting area, where we have placed 6ft social distancing markers on the floor until it is their time to shop,” she explains to me. Her store supports in-store shopping, which might be frightening for many people working their way through the pandemic. However, her shop has taken many precautions to aid the prevention of the virus. They require that each customer wear a mask at all times, with no exceptions, and provide hand sanitizer for customers to use while shopping as well as during check out. As for themselves, she and Dustin Bulaon (the shop’s co-owner) double up on mask usage and have a plexiglass divider at the checkout counter, which isn’t a new feature of the pandemic. Lots of stores have recently added plexiglass shields to separate the air between the customer and seller in an attempt to create a safer environment for all who enter.

Many businesses have found a way to use technology to their advantage in the midst of the pandemic. Leanna Lin’s Wonderland is another shop that greatly relied on in-store shopping. Normally, Leanna Lin, the owner of the novelty and gift store located on Eagle Rock Blvd., has art shows and gallery events in-person at her shop, but during this not-so-normal time, she’s found that she relies a lot on technology. “We’ve transformed our business to mostly online sales,” she shares. “We do virtual events–so all of our art shows, we’ve done virtual openings for them, and also pushed for the online sales versus coming into the store for an event.” Working with a website isn’t necessarily new to her, but she finds that managing her online and in-store shop almost seems like two different jobs. She’s also discovered that the mobile app, Popshop Live, has helped her a lot when it comes to selling merchandise and items from her store.

Of course, any journey would not be without difficulties along the way, and for both Leaf and Spine and Leanna Lin’s Wonderland, they find that the main challenge is adapting to these new and changing times. Segura states that her business was recently featured in the LA Times, right before the stay-at-home order was announced. With their newfound rise in popularity paired with a temporary close not even a week later, Leaf and Spine found it difficult to get back on their feet. “Being a small business and a non-essential business, we had no clue when we were going to be open again and how it was going to affect us in the near future,” she says. “Luckily in May 2020 we were able to do curbside pickup and eventually in November we opened our doors to the public for in-store shopping.” In the case of Leanna Lin’s Wonderland, it was adjusting to new technology and an online environment. As mentioned earlier, her store relied primarily on her customers being at the store in person, so moving things to now be heavily online-based posed a challenge to her. “Having to do double work has been hard. I’m not only doing what I usually do for the physical store–taking safety precautions for local customers, but also changing everything up to work online,” Lin comments. Safety is a priority of in-store shopping for her, so she mentions that altering her workflow to suit the safety of her customers is important. Not only does she work in-store, handle online sales through her website, hold virtual galleries and live streams, but also occasionally delivers orders locally to customers within a three-mile radius of the store. You could say that it has been a bit stressful. Lin says that she has just been “going with the flow,” and is slowly getting used to the new features of her business.

There are some good things that have come from this experience though! Leaf and Spine mentions how exciting it is to work with new customers, despite Covid-19 regulations offering extra stress. There has been a recent surge in plant interest, so Segura says that “there are so many new customers that are discovering their new love for plants. The best part is being able to educate them about all the different varieties of plants that we carry. Some say that the shop is like a mini plant museum for them.” Showing her own love and appreciation for plants is something that makes her happy, so being able to help others and teach them about all different types of plants has brought joy. Leanna Lin has learned a lot about herself during the pandemic and has become more knowledgeable about how to adjust to the times and to technology, musing that she “is not too old to do it.” She’s learned that she can adapt to new scenarios and can be on camera confidently, especially because of her hosting of virtual events and streams.

Regardless of the type of store, the pandemic has clearly impacted businesses everywhere to a large extent. It seems as though despite each business selling different items, the effects of Covid-19 have hit them similarly, though they have different methods of modifying their work to fit their individual needs. Adapting to these times can seem daunting, but with owners who keep a positive outlook and lead with headstrong personalities, both businesses have been able to keep pushing through these times.

Even though the road ahead may still look unsteady, it’s important to stay positive and keep moving forward despite the challenges you may face. A word of advice from one small business owner to another: “Take it month by month, and adjust as you go,” Lin says, recounting her own experience. As mentioned, it’s still a stressful time, so take time for yourself when you can. “As tough as this year has been for every small business owner, keep on trucking through,” Segura says. “Small businesses are part of the backbone of our community. The support we received from the community has made transitioning through these tough times worthwhile.”

Support these businesses!

Leanna Lin’s Wonderland

5024 N Eagle Rock Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041

Open for In-Store Shopping: Wed-Sat, 12-6 pm

Leaf and Spine

5440 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90042

Open for In-Store Shopping: Thursday - Sunday: 11 am-5 pm

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