How a new shop owner is navigating the pandemic

Marielle Segarra Oct 9, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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
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

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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