In March, things were going pretty well for Bearded Goat Barber Shop at (4201 Wilson Blvd). Just across the street, Scout and Molly’s Boutique in Ballston Quarter was having some trouble, but it was nothing compared to what was coming for both of them.
The owners of both businesses joined Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone for a candid conversation on the BID’s podcast about the sudden coronavirus-caused collapse in revenue and how both are working to recover.
Jane Abraham, co-owner of Scout & Molly’s Boutique, said that before the pandemic the store had some trouble getting customers to the upper floors of the mall. It’s a problem the store is still struggling with, but looking back it pales in comparison to trying to run an indoor shop inside a larger indoor space at a time when many customers are staying at home and other local businesses are trying to go outdoors.
“It took all of us by surprise,” Abraham said. “For those of us in small business to go from a vibrant business one day to being shut down for a good three months, if not a little bit more, it’s a hard thing to take.”
While businesses shut down, Abraham said that her bills didn’t. The company struggled to adapt and find new ways to stay active. Customers didn’t respond well to early attempts at reopening, Abraham said, so they doubled down on online sales.
“We did not get much traction with personal appointments,” Abraham said. “We expanded our online presence and people were appreciative — it was a way to stay connected — but as people were unsure about their own futures it wasn’t a time when people wanted to spend an awful lot of money.”
Abraham said support from the community, from customers to local business boosters, has been helpful but hasn’t erased the sting of the company’s losses.
“It’s been pretty tough,” Abraham said. “As a retailer inside a mall-like facility, we really couldn’t have anybody come in for a long time.”
Now, Abraham said her store is focused on trying to get the right kind of clothes for people transitioning back to the office but who aren’t quite ready to go formal again yet.
“The one thing that’s really different right now is so many people have been working from home, so they’re not that ready to have dresses and fancy things,” Abraham said. “Everybody still is in this transition phase. You’ll find a lot of really great things if you want to be cozy still at home or transitioning into the office.”
Eric Renfro, co-owner and operator of Bearded Goat, said the shop was starting to build a strong community presence as it was coming up on its one year anniversary.
“We were just hitting our stride, so it was tough having to shut down and being uncertain,” Renfro said. “No one had answers, no one’s gone through this. We were wondering how we were going to pay rent and utilities, and all our employees are on commission.”
Renfro said they set up an online store selling gift cards, and eventually merchandise, with the proceeds going to the employees who were unable to work.
“During the shutdown as a business, there was no income coming in,” Renfro said. “We were implementing things to stay connected, like FaceTime Fridays. We’d coach people through at-home haircuts with their spouse or roommate. We coached them through the process to make sure they didn’t get too awry.”
Now, the barbershop is back open — with social distancing, masks and frequent cleanings — and the boutique is starting to get more customers, but both business owners said they aren’t sure when — or if — things will ever get back to normal.
“People aren’t yet flocking to stores,” Abraham said. “We certainly are not.”