Small Businesses Defy Odds to Keep Going Amid Lockdown

Small Businesses Defy Odds to Keep Going Amid Lockdown
A customer shops at Peter Elliot boutique in New York City on April 29, 2020. Eliot Rabin, the owner of the boutique (L) is keeping his store open because he objects to the state order deeming his business non-essential, and says he has received widespread support for his stance. (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)
Venus Upadhayaya

Small businesses around the United States are struggling to get by amid CCP virus lockdowns.

While a few have remained open, defying government executive orders, some have adjusted their business models to keep going, even as their communities battle with death and economic loss.

David Smith (not his real name), who runs a home decor business in a neighborhood in Los Angeles, decided to remain open because he believes the lockdown infringes on his civil liberties.

“I never closed my business, I take custom orders,” Smith, 48, told The Epoch Times, adding that his business is down by 95 percent and he’s using his savings to pay his utility bills. “But I handle only one person at a time. The door is closed, people knock at the door, and then I allow only one person at a time and we follow adequate protective measures.”

Like Smith, Eliot Rabin, owner of the Upper East Side boutique Peter Elliot in New York, decided to keep his store open, selling boys’ and men’s apparel, despite an executive order that deems his business non-essential and requires him to close. He says he doesn’t want the lockdown to disrupt what he calls the “soul of his business.”

Rabin, 78, has suffered substantial financial losses but wants to remain open because it sustains hope. Small businesses such as Smith’s and Rabin’s across the United States are losing $255 billion to $431 billion each month due to the CCP virus lockdown, according to the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.

Keeping their doors open, they say, is more about belief than sustaining an income.

“I’m not going to allow this to disrupt the soul of my business or the soul of my employees or the soul of my country,” Rabin told The Epoch Times, adding that ever since leaving the doors of his business open to clean it, people just started coming in.

“Tolerance is the key. Civility is luck. That’s the soul of my business.

“People are coming in because they’re human beings and because I’m a human being.”

Eliot Rabin, the owner of Peter Elliot boutique, works in his shop in New York on April 29, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)
Eliot Rabin, the owner of Peter Elliot boutique, works in his shop in New York on April 29, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

Jeffrey Selden, managing partner of Marcia Selden Catering, which operates in New York City and Connecticut, decided to remain open but in a different way.

“Second week of March, we were at a big conference in Las Vegas for Catersource when the world came to a halt. That weekend, we went back to our office on Saturday and created our Party in a Box and Fill your Fridge Menus,” Selden said in an email.

“We pivoted our business, furloughed 60 percent of our team, and opened our home delivery service and party in a box!”

Selden says business hasn’t been the same financially as before the lockdown, but they have kept it relevant and positive.

Waiting for the Loans

The immediate challenge that every small business faced as it became non-operational amid the lockdown was the inability to pay rent and utility bills. Getting loans hasn’t been easy for most.

Kate Fryer, 33, established her business—A Bead Just So—through seven years of hard work and patience in the village of Ballston Spa, New York.

Fryer has a full-service bead store that supplies handcrafted jewelry, jewelry repair, and hosts birthday parties and ladies nights. While her business model was her retail store, because of the lockdown, she had to make a quick transition.

“My retail store is closed and I switched over to online sales,” Fryer told The Epoch Times.

“It’s very scary because my business, people want to come in and see and touch and feel what they are buying,” she said. “It’s the idea of losing 100 percent of your business because people can’t shop how they are used to.”

Fryer, who is financially “struggling,” has applied for a paycheck protection program (PPP) loan but hasn’t heard back from the bank. That’s also been the case with Rabin, according to an earlier interview with The New York Post.

The PPP loans are given under the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides $349 billion in assistance to small businesses facing difficulties due to social distancing, shelter-in-place orders, and other measures designed to control the pandemic.

Small business owners such as Fryer were encouraged to apply for these loans through their banks, credit unions, and other institutions under the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) rules beginning April 3.

A loan statement account status is displayed next to an iPhone screen behind reading "coronavirus" in Arlington, Va., on April 16, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)
A loan statement account status is displayed next to an iPhone screen behind reading "coronavirus" in Arlington, Va., on April 16, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

However, the demand for these loans is high. The SBA said May 4 that it had successfully processed more than 100,000 loans from more than 4,000 lenders, and Marcia Selden Catering was one of them.

“We have been lucky enough to apply for the PPP loans and were granted that this week! Our business is a fraction of what it was, but are hanging on nicely doing all of our deliveries, and creating virtual parties for clients,” Jeffrey Selden said.

Smith says he disagrees with the approach of imposing the lockdown, and declined to apply for a loan.

“I refuse to take loans from the government because I don’t believe in what they are doing,” he said.

Essential vs. Non-Essential

When state governments imposed lockdowns to control the CCP virus pandemic, they closed all businesses that were determined to be non-essential while others, deemed to be essential, such as health care services, grocery stores, and gas stations, remained open.

Rabin said he can’t understand why a liquor store would be considered an essential business in New York, while his business is considered non-essential.

“I am just as essential, if not more so because I supply, I give from our staff, our people, and have bright colors, emotional support, cheerfulness after you’ve been cooped up for weeks and weeks,” he said.

Smith said he finds the division of society into essential and non-essential businesses as “unfair and discriminatory.”

“We can’t distort the economy and destroy people’s livelihoods, we all are essential. We are all responsible for our families, to our children, to our partners,” he said.

Rabin said his hope is sustained by the “overwhelming” response he received after reopening;  he said he’s received over 10,000 emails of support from all over the world since being interviewed by Fox News.

“The phone doesn’t stop. People are literally walking in, [saying] don’t want to buy, here’s $50 to help you out,” said Rabin, adding that his store has become symbolic of goodwill and isn’t just a business.

Fryer says going online has helped her sustain hope; she believes her business will survive because of the support from her customers.

“I actually had a customer, right when this happened, she and I got very close and she called me and said, ‘Kate if you need something, whatever you need, you call me and I’ll make sure that you and your family don’t suffer and that your business doesn’t suffer.'”

CNN Newswire contributed to this report.
Venus Upadhayaya reports on India, China, and the Global South. Her traditional area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her other areas of interest.
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