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When the going gets tough

My name is K McCarthy and I am the owner of the women’s clothing stores, Phoenix and Ruby in Carytown.  Before the pandemic, my business was doing well. I had every reason to believe that things were going to be great this year. The weather was cooperating, people were out early looking for spring clothing,  and the economy was humming along merrily. I had received most of my new inventory in February. The items were either sitting in boxes or hung up anticipating the shoppers at my retail locations and at the annual upcoming spring Bizarre Bazaar at the Richmond Raceway complex. I was stocked and ready to rock and roll. I told myself as I was approaching my anniversary of 43 years in business, I could easily make it to the half-century mark. No problem. I had always been passionate about helping people, sharing their stories, and surprising them with clothes they ended up loving.

Then in March everything changed. “What am I going to do now?” This was one of the first things I asked myself when the pandemic shut down my business over seven weeks ago. At first it was surreal and seemed like a vacation of sorts. I could read, catch up on Netflix shows and ride out the storm. Then I began to think about the harsh reality of what may lie ahead. I pondered the scenarios that would play out if I let myself go home and just wait. I thought about what my father told me when I was younger and found trouble staring me in the face – “When the going gets tough the tough get going.” So I made a plan and implemented it within a week after the shut down. I’ve owned multiple stores for 42 of my 43 years but my friends and family had always cautioned me "you only need one store" when I complained about how tired I was. The solution was finally obvious – just have one store…sort of. First I would move my store, Ruby Boutique, into the backroom of the Phoenix. Meanwhile, there were 10 years of paperwork to sort through, boxes of clothing, racks of back stock, and miscellaneous items seemingly everywhere. It was like moving out of a house, building a new house, and then moving into the new house all in less than six weeks time. It was daunting and exhausting, but I was in survival mode.

Then came the next battle -- Developing and opening an online store while I was still in the middle of moving Ruby into the Phoenix. As anyone who has tried starting a web- based business knows, the online shop had its own unique learning curve and challenges. Armed with an iPhone, white backdrop paper, and a clamp-on flood lamp I began to photograph my inventory, write the descriptions, then undress and redress the manikins. I worked from early morning to late at night seven days a week for most of the next two months. “Don't look ahead just focus on what is directly in front of you,” I reminded myself each morning. I would get up, glance at the digital NY Times on my phone, then hop on my bike and ride to work while I sorted out the day’s itinerary. As I rode, I marveled at the crunch of hybrid tires over the gravel on my path, the views of the river, and the birds chirping somehow more loudly than I ever remembered. I was enjoying myself and filled with gratitude that I was able to do this right here, right now, today.  Life is telling me, showing me, teaching me that if I stay in the present and focus on what I have before me at this moment, I will get to where I am going. My fears and apprehensions of only a few weeks ago have been transformed into enjoying the ride on my bike and the ride on the roller coaster of retail.

A quick follow up to the story is that I finally received a PPP loan. The guidelines for using the money are difficult to follow given the circumstances. How do we use the funds for payroll within the allowed time if we are still not allowed to open? If we do not use the money as directed then we will lose the grant. This may be the difference between staying in business and not. The employees who feel unsure may not return to work. The money lost will not be recovered, the amount of inventory left to sell is daunting, and there is no guarantee the customers will return when we are finally allowed to reopen.  The only certainty is the uncertainty we are facing. All we can do is hope for a happy ending for small businesses. Otherwise, it looks like most, like mine, will be gone and with them the kind of personal touch and close relationships that have made shopping one of life’s little pleasures for so long.

The latest news is that we were warned about civil unrest in Carytown and were asked by the police to board up our buildings to protect our shops in the case of looting over the last weekend. The whole street looks abandoned and it feels And looks so sad. What does the violence have the do with a peaceful protest and aren't they one of them if they also inflict pain and suffering on innocent people?

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