Yesterday California governor Gavin Newsom ordered all 40 million Californians to stay at home—effectively forcing all nonessential businesses in the state to close shop and residents to remain indoors. We can leave only to get groceries, supplies, or medicine and go outside only as long as we’re six feet from anyone else. San Francisco has been under a shelter-in-place edict since Monday, and the streets have been very quiet and the beaches and jogging paths along the bay very busy. (No one pays attention to the six-feet rule.)
I’d shuttered the San Francisco and Marin locations of my women’s specialty store, Hero Shop, upon the announcement. But it took me a while to make it official (read: post it on Instagram). The news changed every minute. Not to mention I was having a very hard time with the messaging. How do you bridge the gap between “the world is ending, please stay safe” and “wait, look at this cute new Ganni dress that arrived yesterday”?
Nearly 85% of Hero Shop’s revenue comes from in-store purchases (as opposed to online sales or personal shopping). The idea of eliminating that stream for almost a month, while still having bills to pay, was crushing. All I could do was act. I had to tell my five part-time staffers to not come in and that essentially they were without a job for three weeks. They’d seen the news; they knew what was happening. Luckily they are mostly students working just a couple hours a week or have other sources of income. Though one did wonder—after talking to her friends who work in restaurants and bars, where the staff layoffs can be higher and much more dire—if I would lay her off so that she could collect unemployment. I told her I hoped to rehire her.
Meanwhile, my only full-time employee, Haley, and I quickly consolidated inventory (easier to send out to clients that way), packed up whatever paperwork we’d need to work from home, shipped out packages being sent to clients on approval, and repeated over and over to each other, “What the fuck.”
I also reached out to other retailers. “What are you doing about deliveries?” I emailed Christina Bryant, who had closed her home store St. Frank in Pacific Heights. A friend who has a women’s store in the Mission wrote to me, “Are you asking for a rent abatement?” At least five fellow entrepreneurs forwarded the application from San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development for a $10,000 grant as part of its COVID-19 Small Business Resiliency Fund. We all know how hard it is to start, manage, and sustain a small business, especially in San Francisco, where the homelessness crisis and lack of non-tech workers make it especially challenging. We all want the others to pull through.
I rerouted the shipments I could to my apartment, and our landlords and vendors have said they’re willing to work with us on payment terms. Fortunately, Hero Shop has a loyal Instagram following, and clients use our Stories and DMs as a way to shop. So I’ve prioritized posting and am trying to make our Stories more engaging now that I don’t have the advantage of meeting clients in person. I’ve also made sure that all of the inventory—from a $15 art book on Henri Rousseau to a $945 tie-dye Elder Statesman sweater—is available on our website and that cozy sweatshirts have pride of place on the homepage. In the very recent past, like last Friday, e-commerce played second fiddle. Now, it’s imperative.
I have no idea if this will work. I have no idea what Hero Shop will look like in three weeks, let alone three months. Maybe the business will pivot and we’ll become online retail geniuses. More likely, it’ll be a haul. What buoys me are the online purchases already made by friends who know how much any sale counts right now, even if they don’t have anywhere to wear that La DoubleJ dress. And a few clients have reached out now that I have posted on Stories that cute new Ganni look, sending heart eyes and saying they can’t wait to try it when we’re open again. I politely asked if I could send it to them sooner.