Two years into the pandemic, this microbusiness owner is still on “a roller coaster”
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As the pandemic approaches the end of its second year, microbusiness owners across the country are still scrambling to make it through. Government aid like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) helped many to survive, but not all received aid.
Ashlie Ordonez owns The Bare Bar in Denver, Colorado where she offers services including body waxing, facials, and lash and brow treatments. Days before the grand opening of her shop, state and local governments across the country ordered nonessential businesses to temporarily close due to the pandemic.
At the time, Ordonez applied for a PPP loan and EIDL, but says she was denied for both due to the timing of her business opening.
“I had to have been in business and taking clients by Feb. 15. But unfortunately, I signed my lease on Feb. 14,” she told “Marketplace” last March. “So, I had to build out my studio. We were actually supposed to open on March 21.”
“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal checked in with Ordonez almost one year on. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: So, we talked last March, you know, 10 or so months ago. It was a little tricky for you, I think we have to be honest. How has it been in the days since?
Ashlie Ordonez: I would say that it’s still a little bit of a roller coaster. I think it was really evident, we weren’t getting much help from PPP or EIDL loans. So we were facing closure in May. That was like my timeline of when my cash reserves were running out. I had a real fear that May would be my deadline, but we had a lot of a lot of amazing people reach out and help us get to May. And then once we got to May, our busy season kind of started and got us through until now. It was kind of a roller coaster, but we made it through.
Ryssdal: I don’t want to start off on a down note, but are you confident you’re going to make it through to the next busy season? Which, you know, May, June, summertime?
Ordonez: Yeah, I was at a point around November where I was — I had to look at avenues of possibly selling the business. The second that the omicron variant made news, it felt like we were in 2020, first hearing about the pandemic again. We lost 30% of our clientele, people were kind of afraid to come back out again. So, I tried to get on the ball of like, OK, what can I do to grow my business and keep us open? Because slow season is just terrifying right now for the beauty industry, because we are so client-driven, right? But I pushed through and decided to stop trying to hire people because it was so hard to find people that were wanting to really work, and start renting out the rooms that I had so that I could make my rent.
Ryssdal: Are you paying yourself a salary, by the way?
Ordonez: No, I haven’t been able to pay myself in over a year.
Ryssdal: That’s not sustainable. I mean, yes, you own the business. But if you’re not bringing home a paycheck?
Ordonez: It’s kind of crazy. It’s put some strain on the home life, a little bit. But you just have to really concentrate on why you started. And I think my passion for my clients and what I’m doing here outweighs the stress of that.
Ryssdal: When you stop to think about the next year or so, for all your passion and for all your determination, this is kind of not in your hands, right? I mean, it’s up to the virus, and it’s up to how people are feeling. What else do you suppose you could do to keep this business afloat?
Ordonez: I’ve kind of exhausted some growth, my brain is tired from adapting so much. You know, we started out as just a waxing studio. And then I brought on facials to try to generate more business. And then I tried to bring on tanning, like spray tanning, to generate more business. And then I made my waiting room a boutique to generate e-commerce options. And now my brain is fried. I have nothing else but to change this to booth renting, you know? I do feel like I’ve come to a point of exhaustion of what this business can really change into much more. Does that make sense?
Ryssdal: Yeah, no, it makes total sense. You’re working hard and that comes through. And it makes me — I’m amazed that you’re still going. When we talked a year ago, you hadn’t had, as you mentioned in the beginning, you hadn’t had a lot of luck with PPP and some of the other programs. And I asked you if you thought you had been sort of forgotten about by the system. And I want to ask you the same question this time, because all that help from the government has run out, and there ain’t no more coming. And all you have now, are the people around you. But I guess the question is, do you still feel, as a microbusiness in this economy, do you still feel kind of forgotten?
Ordonez: Absolutely. I don’t even think they took a double look at me. I think a lot of small businesses felt forgotten, not just mine. And I feel like it was really hard watching over and over again these large businesses get this PPP that they didn’t even need, that they had cash reserves for. So, a part of me feels a bit bitter and forgotten. And then the other part of me feels like at some point, you have to stop feeling sorry for yourself and just hustle. So, I think that instead of focusing so much on being forgotten, my goal is to just focus on doing right by my clients so that they want to come back.
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