Finding More Strength
Posted on June 01 2020
I was walking the historic streets of Old Town Prague in late February. Unaware that a viral pandemic would put my life into a tailspin only a few short weeks later. This romantic city stole my heart the second I stepped on the cobblestone streets. It didn't matter which direction you turned the quick selfie would be an epic landscape behind you with gothic style architecture and rich history at every turn.
We heard about the trouble in Italy but that was an 18 hour train ride away and it was said to be contained and only affecting the older population. Still, we carried on our way discovering Vienna on a sleepy Sunday when all the shops were closed except the street vendors & restaurants. So breezy, no cares.
I was starting to feel nervous by Sunday night before our flight home. We were about to board a plane for a 13 hour journey through two major airports. Would they let us on the plane in Vienna after reports were coming out that inbound flights from Europe were being watched for people with symptoms. We were feeling fine, no one was sick and yet we just learned that even without symptoms you can pass this virus. Once we landed in Toronto I nearly kissed the ground. But of course I didn't, as my kids were practically licking the railings of every escalator in the airports. Kids are so hard to control in a pandemic. They just don't get it.
We made it home, unaware that we would be expected to lock down in our homes just 5 days later. In hindsight, we should have quarantined from the moment we landed in Canada, but we didn't know then. Nobody did. Nobody knew anything about this virus. That was the scary thing. Does it kill you? "We're not sure". Can you get it from surfaces? "Yes possibly, it may live up to 48 hours on the milk jug you bought". What?!
While everyone was facing the fears of illness, small business owners around the world were facing the added fear of losing their livelihood. We closed the Birch Bay boutique March 18th and a week later March 24th we closed our newest boutique in Lynden. We set up a two person team at the closed Lynden boutique. As for me, I was quarantined in Canada and the border was shut down to non-essential travel.
We started to brainstorm new ways to connect with our shoppers in an effort to save our business from bankruptcy and continue to pay at least our managers, one of whom is a single mother. I was used to taking no salary as a business owner during investment times and expansion, but my heart was breaking as I laid off six part time and casual employees and channeled all my energy toward saving the last two remaining jobs at Betty Be Good.
We launched The Betty Bag after input from some key stakeholders. Unsure of how it would be received in a downturn economy, we hit "publish" online and held our breath! To our immediate surprise and elation six orders came in that day. Six more over the weekend... all from supporters who I would call heroes. They literally gave me the strength to continue just by buying a $59 bag of clothing. We poured so much love into every bag then and now... recognizing that each person took from their budget the funds to support us. This would not be lost on me, not now or ever.
There were heartbreaks along the way. Some of our early Betty Bags were packed up with love and taken to the post office only to be stolen right from the box losing our small business hundreds in goods. This felt like a sucker punch. Yet, we dug deep and found more strength because it wouldn't be the last of the lost parcels or the sucker punches.
Then came the relief funds. If you don't have an MBA well forget about even trying to apply for this. It took me a week of paperwork to apply and even longer waiting for a reply while I wondered could I pay rent, utilities or my staff. Obviously first my staff were the priority, but next could I borrow rent or defer or beg for forgiveness or simply put it on a credit card?
After I jumped through each hoop, it seemed like the next hoop was on fire. I jumped through all of them and by May 1st when hopes of a phase oriented opening came along I was exhausted. I wondered if I had more strength to meet the requirements of covid-safe operations. I watched as other small businesses announced that their doors would be closed forever. I asked myself if I don't come back will anyone care?
I crossed the border for the first time mid-May. Another hoop on fire, so many obstacles over the past 10 weeks that now it felt like I was an acrobat in Cirque De Soilel. No big deal. Just a little fire. I opened the doors of my Birch Bay store and the emotions overwhelmed me. I loved my job, I loved my customers, I loved this place. I couldn't believe I nearly lost it. I missed it so much and I couldn't be there to protect my team, support my customers and encourage them through this nightmare.
There is so much talk about what is an essential business and while I would not argue that clothing is an essential business, these little shops are essential to the mental health of so many women. Everyday women come in and share some of their deepest sorrows with us, fears about acceptance and struggles of loss, rejection and heartbreak. I'm not supposed to hug my shoppers through the pandemic and that will be one of the hardest parts of returning to work. I literally hugged so many people a day (not just a hug to say hi), I hugged them because they were weary, near tears and needed that hug. This will be my greatest challenge.
This week I'm training, doing more work to prepare a Covid-safe environment. I can't wait to welcome our shoppers back, to see them again, to encourage them again and to give them joy once again. I'll just need to dig deeper to find more strength. It's now part of my job; my non-essential 'essential' job.