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How a new shop owner is navigating the pandemic

Marielle Segarra Oct 9, 2020
Heard on:
Maris Johansson, above, has hired her first employee for her shop, Broomtail, in Denver. Credit: Joslyn Griffin

How a new shop owner is navigating the pandemic

Marielle Segarra Oct 9, 2020
Heard on:
Maris Johansson, above, has hired her first employee for her shop, Broomtail, in Denver. Credit: Joslyn Griffin

We first met Maris Johansson in June. She’s a first-time entrepreneur in Denver who opened a children’s clothing and toy store, Broomtail, in mid-May, just after the state lifted pandemic restrictions. 

When we left off, she didn’t know how long her business would make it. But she’s surviving. Here’s what happened in September, a crucial month in her industry.

On the Tuesday morning after Labor Day, Johansson and her two kids were sitting in an armchair reading a book when her 4-year-old son, Logan, saw something out the window.

Unexpected weather

“Snowflakes!” he said.

Snow in Denver in early September. Unexpected.

“I really don’t know what to expect for today,” Johansson said. “I could see the weather driving people in [to the store], because you go to your kids’ drawers and realize that things from last winter don’t fit.”

Or the snow could keep people at home, she said. It’s hard to predict.

Johansson’s kids, Logan, 4, and Frankie, who’s nearly 2, play in the store. (Photo by Joslyn Griffin)

Broomtail had been open for almost four months as of Labor Day, and it had yet to turn a profit — not surprising for a new business, especially now. But in August, she was just $1,000 short. Maris had high hopes for September. 

“Typically, you know, I’ve heard that September is the biggest month for retailers in children’s apparel, even bigger than some of the holiday months,” she said.

But this is not a typical year.

A weird and lonely summer

It was a weird, lonely summer. Her sales fell in July, and the restaurant next door shut down.

“The owner would stop by and bring me coffee or we’d chitchat about things going on in the neighborhood and business. And even if we weren’t talking, I could still hear them next door and hear people coming in and out, so you just felt like you weren’t totally in it alone,” Johansson said.

And then she was.

These days, Johansson finds herself dropping off packages at the UPS Store a lot. Her online sales are growing.

(Photo by Joslyn Griffin)

She started offering free shipping on orders over $75 — she kind of felt like she had to. It gets expensive, so she sometimes bypasses professional shipping. “If it’s in Denver, I always check the route. If it’s on my way home or into the shop, I will drop it off myself,” she said. 

Business was a little up and down through September. Some days were slow, others lively. On Sept. 24, a Thursday, Johansson reported five sales in the first hour of the day — more than normal.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I think I need to stop trying to anticipate consumer behavior and just keep rolling and keep busy.”

Her first employee

Johansson also made a big decision this month. She hired her first employee, a commercial photographer named Joslyn Griffin who recently took photos of the shop. Griffin will work as a sales associate for $18 an hour, two Saturdays a month, which means Johansson can finally take a weekend off. 

On Sept. 29, Johansson was getting the store ready for Griffin. She brought in some hand cream and energy bars so her new employee would feel at home.

“My bachelorette shopgirl days are over,” she said.

A few days later, Johansson looked at her numbers and saw that she made a profit for September: $1,200. She hasn’t quite figured out why her customers shop when they do, but she’ll take it. Especially as an entrepreneur who opened her first store during a pandemic.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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