Analisa Taylor had wanted to keep working.
Taylor, 52, is a hairdresser and co-manager of a hair salon and barbershop with just two chairs. She understood the threat of the new coronavirus, but she didn’t think her business would pose a threat. She emphasized how, at the most, there are four people in a room at a time. They wipe down everything in between customers. She washes her hands all day long.
On Monday, the city ordered all non-essential commercial activity to close by 5 p.m. For Taylor, like many others, that meant her sole source of income had come to an end.
“If we’re not cutting hair, we’re not making money," said Taylor, who works at Dave’s Salon and Barber Shop at 47 S. Fourth St. “If we’re not making money how are we paying the bills?”
Small-business owners and workers in the city watched in the last week as other counties forced non-essential stores, such as hair salons, bookstores and clothing stores, to close. They saw the cases of the new coronavirus continue to increase and heard about the importance of social distancing, the act of limiting how often you interact with others, curtailing the rapid spread of the virus.
So even if this announcement were expected, they still took the news hard. Owners worried how they would support themselves and their workers during this time; how long the forced closures would last; if their businesses would be able to open once they are allowed; if, at that time, customers would even have disposable income to spend and keep their business alive; if they needed to take out more loans.
This shutdown is scheduled to last through “at least” March 27, officials said, bringing Taylor closer to the time her bills are due.
“At the beginning of the next month the mortgage will be due, the car will be due, the insurance will be due, everything is going to be due and in this line of work you can’t make up two weeks," said Taylor. "You can’t get it back.”
Shani Newton was behind even before the coronavirus hit. Newton, the owner of Dolly’s Boutique & Consignment, a specialty women’s wear store on Germantown Avenue, used a lot of her savings to open a new store in the Fashion District six months ago and she’s still paying her bills from that construction.
She knew the risk of her industry and saw big-box stores sizing down and closing. But she thought her products were unique and opening in the former Gallery Mall would attract new business from a busy part of the city.
Now, she isn’t sure what to do. She’s going to try to pay her employees during this time, while also paying her bills, such as the utilities, at both stores and her home. She might take out another loan.
“It’s just doom and gloom right now, but we’re resilient — small-business people are resilient from the gate,” Newton said. “I’m just going to push, push, push my online presence, social media, and hope people will still shop.”
Gerrae Simons Miller, the owner of Mellow Massage and Yoga in East Falls, doesn’t have that option. Her business can’t be operated remotely because it works directly with people.
Yoga classrooms were being cleaned and disinfected, patients were being screened on their travel history and whether they felt sick. People were being asked to wash their hands. But still, Miller said, she was getting ready to close anyway. She knew it was in the benefit of public health.
“It’s definitely the right thing, but it’s really hurting small businesses,” Miller said. “We are all hoping that this is something we are attacking with enough force that it will slow down and we won't have this situation for too long.”
It’s difficult enough to be a brick-and-mortar bookstore and cafe, said Justin Moore, the general manager of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books in Germantown. The store has small margins and significant overhead, and relies on daily sales to pay employees.
The forced closures mean everyone is losing income. Moore said he understands why they must close and that social distancing is a way to fight the coronavirus. Still, he is hoping for more information from city officials about resources he can offer his employees so they can get by. He said he feels as if “we’re in the dark.”
“Just trying to be in the retail space in 2020 is already a difficult endeavor,” Moore said. "And something like this just makes it catastrophically worse.”
While many businesses are just closing now because of the city’s order, Tony Trov, the co-owner of South Fellini, a store with Philly-themed clothes and accessories, said it already closed last week.
After seeing what happened in Europe and China, he thought closing was inevitable. But now he doesn’t know how to support himself or his employees.
“For the most part we’re just hunkering down,” Trov said. “It’s completely our livelihood and it’s as bad as it could possibly be.”