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A shopkeeper’s humble opinion on when to reopen for business

U.S. cities and states are trying to balance economic activity and public health. The consequences of those decisions fall squarely on small businesses, with almost half of their owners saying the pandemic is having a large negative impact on business. Anna Kahoe owns a furniture and clothing store in Washington, D.C., and she shares her humble opinion on determining the right time to reopen.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As cities and states struggle to find the right balance between reopening and keeping people safe, the weight of those decisions fall squarely on small business owners.

    According to a new survey that the Census Bureau is taking weekly, almost half of small business owners say that the coronavirus is having a large negative impact on their business.

    Shops that are not considered essential have had to close.

    Anna Kahoe owns a furniture and clothing store in Washington, D.C.

    And, tonight, she shares her Humble Opinion on determining when is the right time to open back up.

  • Anna Kahoe:

    On March 15, I began tumbling down the staircase of grief.

    We closed our shop for what we thought would be two weeks to flatten the curve. I was in denial. I didn't know we would lose our employees, that we would ask our landlord for help, that I would yell like a banshee at the bank because they ran out of funds before they reached our loan application.

    I bargained. If we paint, move fixtures and deep-clean the shop, we'd come back better than ever. Now, while states lift stay-at-home orders, I am scared. We want to open, but at what cost?

    I'm now on the bottom step known as acceptance, asking, why, in the throes of a global pandemic, does my business matter? There is no model that illustrates the intimate ways small businesses form the backbone of our communities.

    See, it happens when someone comes out of the dressing room, twirling like a child at their first recital. Finally they have a dress that allows them to see themselves as they truly are.

    "I can't believe how good this looks on me," they say.

    Or a gentleman of a certain age who comes by daily. He always reports which art exhibits are a must-see. He says our shop is a part of a ritual that keeps him healthy.

    These days, I wake up traumatized. I know it's not going back to normal. It's unlikely I will be able to rehire our staff. Best-case scenario, it will be me, my husband, abbreviated hours and a handful of customers.

    I am not sure what happens when you go from full speed to full stop, then to puttering along. I don't have a job I can work from home. I want to look my customer in the eye, shake their hand, even hug them.

    Walking to my shop, I pass shops whose owners I know. I say a prayer, "See you on the other side."

    I have to figure out how to climb back up the steps of my shuttered shop, because there is nothing small about small business.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Anna Kahoe, we thank you.

    And we wish you and all the small business owners well.

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