“You’ll think everything is going to be great one day and then two days later you’re writing an Instagram post saying you’re closing down,” says Honey Moon, owner of 1 of A Find Vintage in Prospect Heights. “But you don’t post it. You think… Maybe I won’t close down.”
When New York City’s thrift stores and other retail establishments are allowed to reopen on Monday, some will do so immediately– offering curbside and in-store pickup only– and others will stay closed as they figure out how to reopen safely. Still others, like Honey Moon’s, won’t reopen at all. A few days ago, she decided to close her store for good.
The 43-year-old mother of four opened 1 of A Find in 2006; it survived the 2008 economic crisis but not this one. Her only full-time employee was left with no choice but to file for unemployment after Moon, who did not qualify for a loan, decided to rethink her model and concentrate her money and energy on her home goods store, 1 of A Find Home. “Downsizing is the only way I see to keep my business going and avoiding horrible debt,” says Moon. She’ll take the next two months to break apart the vintage store and make space for clothing and accessories in the Home store. Since summer is “usually very slow,” it won’t reopen until October.
Lexi Oliveri, the owner of Antoinette, in Williamsburg, says her boyfriend saw the fear on her face when she learned that non-essential businesses had to close in mid-March. On top of that, A Current Affair, a vintage retail show where she usually makes money as a vendor, was canceled. She was “absolutely stressed” about not being able to survive the crisis and decided to file for unemployment and to apply to “every possible grant” that could help her support her business and her employees.
Lexi, who was supposed to celebrate her store’s nine-year anniversary during the lockdown, is now more than ready to reopen after two and a half months of selling virtually on Instagram. But she’s scared about a lack of clarity around the reopening phases. “I don’t think that the governor and the mayor are very clear on the steps for reopening,” she said. “I mean, phase 1, ok but what is phase 1 and who is concerned?”
The city has issued a reopening guide for retail stores that mandates social distancing between employees, 50-percent occupancy, regular cleaning and disinfection, distancing markers in commonly used areas, and employee face coverings where social distancing or physical barriers can’t be maintained. Employees must also submit to daily temperature checks and symptom-screening questionnaires, and employers must inform the state and city health department if an employee who has been in close contact with other people tests positive.
Oliveri has already planned to reopen “one customer at a time, sanitize the counter every minute,” and she cannot wait to start the summer season.
The pandemic has also hit Beacon’s closet hard. All four Beacon’s locations– Greenpoint, Park Slope, Manhattan and Bushwick– closed their doors two days before the mandatory date as there was too much anxiety among employees. “People were crying, they were frightened,” says Cindy Wheeler, the main partner at the Bushwick location.
They reopened as a web store two weeks into the crisis. “It has been horrible,” says Cindy. “We were literally so freaked out, we needed to pay our electric bill and take money away for our employees’ health care and at the time, no insurance companies were going to give us a deferral… they were like, ‘It’s due.’”
After doing their best to give their employees two weeks’ pay and to pay their rents, they barely had enough money in the bank to stay afloat, “so we all learned how to Internet,” Wheeler laughs. Each morning, one of the store managers goes to the Greenpoint store, pulls clothes to put on the website, takes iPhone pictures, and ships packages. According to Cindy, it’s the only way to keep the Greenpoint store going even if the internet store makes, in a month, what the location made on a given Saturday.
Now that they have received the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance— a federal program that provides support for those unable to work due to the coronavirus pandemic– Wheeler and the other store managers are spending many hours of the day trying to get ready for reopening. As they meet the person who is installing the plexiglass barriers on the buying counters and in the dressing rooms, they have one question in mind : “Are we going to reopen before July? If not, we will have lost an entire quarter. That is huge.”
Kate Goldwater, the owner of AuH2O thrift and vintage boutique in the East Village, is facing another dilemma: with a one-year-old and a three-year-old at home with her, she can only spend two hours a day posting items on her Instagram account for sale. “I do everything with one kid on my hip and the other one playing in the background,” she says. As long as there is no school and no childcare, Kate can’t go back to working full-time.
She and her husband are still waiting for personal financial help from the government but she hasn’t taken the time to go through the application process for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) because she thinks that the money should also benefit business owners. “It seems like with all the loans, you have to put the money towards your employees and rent, which is fine if your landlord is forcing you to pay the rent, but it should also benefit the people.”
Goldwater isn’t sure if she will be able to afford to pay her staff, since she doesn’t have as much stock left. She’s hoping to reopen three days a week when this “living nightmare,” as she calls the shutdown, is over.