Okay so I guess I’ve shelled up a bit the past few weeks. I definitely had a million thoughts flying around and wrote some things that will never see the light of day, but I want to keep you all informed. It’s hard to talk about where we are as a little brand when there’s so many other bigger things happening in the world but I just want to take the time to get all this down so you guys can follow along. This post isn’t a commentary on those issues, but just a peek into our lil world and how we’ve been navigating these tumultuous waters. I would much rather be communicating when things are awesome, and they usually are, but I know we need to be straightforward during weird times too.
As a recap, when the pandemic started we decided to take things head-on and design and work our way through it. We came up with a ton of designs and you guys came through for us big-time. Our online sales were incredible and kept us afloat even though our store sales dropped to zero. We worked through all the employment issues, and trying to get forgivable loans and all that jazz. It was frustrating paying for retail space when we knew it would be a total loss but we didn’t want to lose all the years of work we had put in to get to that point. So we decided to keep the store and take the temporary loss. We were just about a month into the shutdown when we found out that someone sued our landlord over ADA compliance issues and that the costs of that get passed down to us. Talk about salt in the wound! There’s a lot of stuff to unravel with these lawsuits but basically if you have a business in California and you get hit with a suit like this you’re going to lose money no matter what. The timing of this was just the worst, but we just pressed on.
Our store closure began to feel like forever, so we started reworking the store to get it ready for when we got a clear signal. We worked pretty hard on redesigning our floor plan to give extra space for shoppers and a contactless experience. We printed out QR codes and worked on integrating different apps so you could self-checkout. About a day after getting all that sorted out, we saw news from the CDC that the virus wasn’t really spreading from surfaces. So we scrapped that direction and just got back to the basics to get the store reopened.
I had been away from Tina and the kids for a couple weeks at this point. We wanted to keep our employees paid, and not knowing how long this would go on, one of the quickest solutions was to give up our house in Venice. We were month-to-month there anyway so it was easy to bounce out. I drove them out to Iowa to stay with her parents and then flew back to LA to finish the store.
Once the store was in a good place, I headed back to the Midwest to catch up with my family. My flight was scheduled into Minneapolis (of all places) right as everything was going down. I spent a few days with them in Iowa and during that short time my friends back in LA were texting me and offering to help protect the store. They took down all of our displays and moved everything to the back rooms to get them out of sight, undoing all the work we had just completed. We were closed again after a brief reopening. So I flew back into LA the night of the first curfew. It was set for 4pm and I arrived at 5pm. Tyler picked me up from the airport and we went straight to Home Depot. It looked like we were too late by the time we got there but we ended up getting the last 6 sheets of plywood. We saw the desperation on the faces of the other people trying to load up on plywood and we didn’t have the heart to leave them to load all of that by themselves. We helped a few other small business owners who were just trying to protect their livelihoods. One guy had to get around 20 sheets of plywood because he owned a corner cafe with glass all around. He was by himself.
We lost a lot of time at Home Depot and as we drove away I couldn’t help but compare and contrast big retailers vs small ones. The big stores stayed open the whole time and made better-than-usual sales while all these small shops with less capital to ride out situations like this are mandated to be closed. On top of that, the small shops now have to go spend a lot of money at the big stores just to protect their stuff that they can’t sell anyway. We got to Abbot Kinney Blvd and almost every store was boarded up. There were only a few people out finishing the process but we were way behind. I was trying to weigh out if it was even worth the effort. Why protect something that has become a monthly loss to us? What if one of my employees or friends gets hurt during this process? How much insurance do we have? Why not confront people that are raiding stores instead of boarding up and running away?
A group of friends met us there to help and that was a huge encouragement to me. We built a barrier to block the side entryway and covered all the windows. We had just invested a lot of time and money refacing the store so it felt sickening drilling large holes all over it. It was getting late and we were the only civilians still out. As we worked, the National Guard patrolled the street. I gave them a weird acknowledgement as they went by to make sure they knew we were trying to put boards up and not taking them down (even though we were putting up, taking them down, etc to get them to fit). The whole process was so surreal and I was at my wits end with retail.
After that weekend I talked it over with my team and we decided to close the store. We were proud of what we accomplished with the store, turning a 30 day pop up into a permanent store for 3 years. We’re by far the smallest retailer on the street and to hold our own next to these big brands makes us proud. I sent my 30 day notice to our landlord and got to work planning our exit. About a week into selling everything that we could and prepping to close, we got an email from the landlord. He said they hated to see this situation cause us to lose the store and they lowered our rent considerably. It was a tough call, I had already accepted closing the store so to reconsider now felt like whiplash. I think it’s the community around Venice that makes us want to hang on a little longer. We’ve had so many neighbors and friends encourage us to keep going, so we decided to stay the course and keep the store open. After making the decision I told Tina that it felt like such a burden lifted to know we wouldn’t be taking a big loss there over the next while.
The next morning I get a call from Tyler… “I think we were robbed”. Sure enough, a couple masked guys broke in and stole around $14k worth of stuff. I had to laugh, “Oh, I guess we can still take a loss there”. If we can survive a global pandemic, store closures, a lawsuit, riots, and theft, then I think we can take on just about anything else (and I’m sure we’re about to find out just what that is).
So that wraps up the gloomy stuff for now, but like a great t-shirt once said “Not Over til It’s Over”.
- Lemony Snicket (uh I mean Jared)