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Small Business in a Pandemic


Article by Jami Nato

Photography by Jami Nato

I have done most of my business online—I often sell products I don’t ever touch. Sometimes I sell mentorship or information and most of the time, I don’t physically see the person on the other side of my transaction—of course, I communicate with them online and build relationships. So, when we decided to open a local coffee shop (the Lottie), you can imagine my surprise to learn that while some business matters translate, other’s just don’t. Especially during a pandemic. 

While the pandemic made us really pivot into new ideas and gave us some new virtual calluses and built in us more GRIT, it also gave us an opportunity to highlight how important embodying a physical space is. Without trying to sound cliche, we need people, we actually need to chat—and this is going to sound crazy, but we need small talk! We need to see real eyeballs not hidden with a film of screen. We need to feel, physically feel emotions people are feeling right in front of us. This makes us remember we are not robots! We all know this to be true because who hasn’t got in a personal quibble over tone via text message or Facebook thread? Physically listening to emotion in voice inflections paired with body language, I would say empathy swells up quicker than a fight with Aunt Judith about her latest conspiracy theory. 

To that end, we need to physically open doors for people and feel a sense of helpfulness and compassion no matter what they believe. When was the last time you said, 'I’ll open this door for you if you tell me your political party?' We need to build relationships with those like and unlike us, as we step into a shop—even if minute by minute, slowly over time: day by day with a, "I'll take my usual drip with a little cream. And how is your mother, I haven’t seen her in a while?” 

The physical brick and mortar is more than a small business there to bring light on the corner of a community street. It is that, and I don’t want to take away from what a little shop can do for the morale of the entire town—it can in fact, do many incredible things. But what I want to focus on now, after being immersed in probably hundreds of zooms, FB posts coming at us 200 miles a minute with the latest and greatest info demanding your attention, the news constantly blaring, the feelings of isolation while watching everyone organizing their closet (and you’re on your third day of the same outfit rewatching Downton Abbey)… is that communication through screens is quite different than the joys physical community. 

And with lots of e-commerce and e-communication under my belt, what small business does for the individual is that it helps us to remember our humanity. To remember that we are all just people with feelings and ideas and likely somewhere else to be soon. It is the Cheers theme song, “You wanna be where everyone knows your name…” But the best part of the song is overlooked and straight at the beginning. 

Making your way in the world today

Takes everything you've got

Seeing people makes us remember we’re all trying to do our best. Some of us are running through the doors with a purpose and mission and others are limping through wondering what theirs is. This is where the small business, the little coffee shop or boutique, intersects humanity and welcomes them in all the same. In a world that tells us to make our own way or that we can do it all by ourselves, I’ve come to find through unlocking our doors each morning that it is the opposite: We all physically need each other so fiercely. We need to be seen and missed and asked about our kids’ new pet turtle, Judy. Who else will care that I have to regularly clean up turtle poop?!

So, as we slowly wake back up and wipe the quarantine slumber from our eyes, I would encourage you to find those local places, the mom and pop’s, the little guys, and show up there with your whole self. Pre-pandemic, maybe you liked to keep to yourself a bit more, but perhaps it’s time to look up and say hello, even if with a smile and eye contact. We can’t change what happened the last couple months, but we can change how we step into our futures with more intentionality—where our dollars go, what shops we’d love to still be open in two years (or frankly this summer for some of us, we’re hanging by the skin of our teeth). 

We need you all to show up for us and we promise to do the same thing for you.

Little things that mean the world for a small business and your community: 

+ Like and Follow on their social medias. 

+ Share their posts when you can

+ Invite friends with you when you visit a favorite shop

+ Commit to purchasing from small businesses when you can (I love Target just as much as the next gal)

+ Be a regular

+ Look up! Say hi to the employees

+ Share and tag when you go or are using a product from their store

+ Don’t hurry out, stay a while!

+ Give suggestions (be kind)

+ Let us know when we make you happy!

Businesses featured in this article