Between a rock and a hard place

Wow. I never really understood that saying until now. Because that’s exactly where I am. I am the owner of a small business, and my business has been suffering since the pandemic. Suffering. Stupid word. Actually, it’s not suffering – I am suffering. I’m stressed. I’m sad. I’m angry. And while I am usually the epitome of positivity, I can’t seem to figure this one out. And I can’t seem to just shake it off.

Nine years ago, I saw a “For Rent” sign in the window of a small storefront in my hometown. I’d always wanted to own a little shop. Of course, I had no idea what I would do, or how I would do it, but I called that landlord anyway and made an appointment to see the space. And for nine years, I’ve never missed rent. Never had a business loan. Never relied on anything but my sales to cover all the expenses of owning a business.

And while my business has grown, and seen success as well as loss, I have always been able to pick myself up, brush myself off and rise. I always had the confidence that no matter what was happening, I could figure it out, learn from it, and grow.

And then the pandemic hit. My doors were shut – for three months. My customers went away. My sales disappeared. But even then, I didn’t panic – I pivoted. I decided to try something completely new & different. I started making up gift baskets and delivered them to the front door of nursing homes, apartments and homes all across the region. In three months, I made over 160 gift baskets and when I was finally allowed to reopen, I had a small profit.

Fast forward to now. November, 2021. Having just recovered from my own personal Covid experience, and being out of my store for 14 days because of it – that was followed by a crazy storm that wiped out power & heat for 3 days. I’m now looking at the numbers and they are down. Way down. So far down…

And if I’m being honest, they’ve been down for months, but I’ve been in denial.

So, now I am facing the cold, hard fact that I may need to close my boutique. There it is. I said it. It’s in writing. It’s out there. My darkest fears exposed. But holding it in, has been destroying me. When my customers ask how the business is doing, I smile and say, “Great!” because they don’t need to hear my tale of woe. They aren’t coming into the store to hear about my personal hell. And again, if I’m being honest, I’ve always been able to overcome diversity.

But this feels different. This is an underlying stress that stays with me.

As I geared up for another Saturday at the store, I said a little prayer. I asked for guidance. I asked for clarity. I prayed for peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart. I drove the quick 6-minutes to the boutique, pulled into my spot, and climbed the 5 steps to the back door.

Opening the back door, I have full access to the 1,800 square foot space. It’s beautiful. It’s inviting. And I love it more than I could ever express. I walked around, turning on the lights, the lamps…got my playlist ready on Spotify and felt the toasty heat from the old-fashioned white radiators. The store is decorated for fall, so there are garland leaves and a stunning fall wreath on the front door. The counter has a Welcome Autumn sign and I have the cutest Autumn gnomes on the shelves. I know this place. I know every item on the shelves, and every article of clothing hung on the racks.

As I turned the Closed sign to Open, and the first few customers arrived, I realized I know something even better than my boutique. I know my customers. And it’s more than knowing their sizes and style – I know them. I know their kids, I know their jobs. I know that Kaitryn’s daughter is super talented in dance, and just as pretty as she is smart. I know that Linda’s daughter wants to open her own boutique some day, so I offered to show her the ropes. I know that Gabrielle’s mom doesn’t know that she just bought a new white sweater, and it’s still in the bag in the back of her Jeep. (Gabrielle’s mom thinks white is too hard to wear, but Gabrielle fell in love with the sweater, and I thought it was perfect for her!)

I know that my customers come into my boutique not just to shop, but to talk – to laugh – to vent – to feel good about themselves. The store is a place to gather. It’s a place to celebrate birthdays, engagements, and sometimes, it’s a place to cry while picking out an outfit for a funeral.

It’s the first place that Joanne came to, after getting the good news about her cancer being in remission. She needed to get to her “happy place” and share her good news with her good friend. Me. I had never known Joanne until she walked through my door.

The boutique is special. My customers are special. And I’m not willing to give either of them up. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

I got this.

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