MONTCLAIR, NJ - The COVID-19 pandemic has amassed great destruction to businesses in the United States. According to Yelp’s Local Economic Impact Report from September 2020, over 97,966 businesses have permanently closed their doors on a nationwide scale. However, during this incredibly difficult period of adjustment, many new businesses have recently opened.
In another statistic provided by Yelp that was published on March 10, 2021, nearly half a million—487,577 to be exact—businesses have opened between March 11, 2020, and March 1, 2021.
This can also be seen in the city of Montclair, in which numerous small businesses have opened during the pandemic. For instance, small business such as Audrey & Elle, Sneakers and Cream, and Sicilia Mia have all opened within the past year.
When asked how her recently opened retail location has been faring, Audrey Lowe, owner of Audrey & Elle highlighted the highs and lows of owning a new retail location during the pandemic. Lowe explained that Audrey & Elle, a versatile business that sells apparel revolving around “feminine office-meets-weekend,” was initially an online store that launched in 2019. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many of her “formal” clothing options became difficult to sell, as the fashion trend of “loungewear, joggers, and comfy [clothing]” began to rise. In order to prevent “losing the purpose of [her] store,” Lowe said that she had to formulate a balance between formal and casual clothing.
The idea for opening a retail space originated from Lowe receiving many returning customers following a pop-up shop that she owned “in front of Blue Mercury in Montclair.” As of its opening in January of 2021, Lowe’s retail space has not had to close due to the pandemic. In fact, she views opening her retail space during the pandemic as a positive influence on her business due to the fact that many of the customers that she met at her pop-up shop returned to shop at her new retail location. Lowe also posted information regarding her shop on some of Montclair’s Facebook groups in order to “connect with the community.” Individuals who read her post were “supportive and [came] to [her] store… or checked [her] website.”
Additionally, James Harold, the owner of the small business Sneakers and Cream, shared his perspective on the effect that the pandemic has had on his business. His storefront location has been in business since November 25, 2020, and is “a small sneaker boutique that specializes in brand-new sneakers.” Since “[the business] does not have any sneaker contracts, [they] have to buy [their] sneakers at retail price and/or off of [their] customers.” Sneakers and Cream’s prices are kept “reasonable” so that customers continue to return, he adds.
Although Harold has not had to close his business for pandemic-related reasons since its opening, he added that, “business has been slow because of [the pandemic].”
More specifically, the closing of locations such as schools and restaurants has “minimized [the store’s] foot traffic.”
For instance, kids’ shoes that are often purchased for the purpose of attending school in-person are not selling due to the influx of students who are attending school virtually. Like Audrey & Elle, Sneakers and Cream has received support from the community of Montclair. Harold added that residents have “[come into] the store… and [shown] support.”
Caterina Russo, the owner of Sicilia Mia, opened her small business in September 2020. She states that her business sells “imported goods from [Sicily, Italy].” Some of these items include “olive oil [produced] in Sicily at the feet of Mt. Etna, olive oil bottles that are hand painted by [Sicily-based] artists, sauces, [and] pastas.”
For Russo, one of the main challenges that has arisen from the pandemic has been “getting the products to [her location] because the shipping company’s ships are not leaving [on time].” This has caused “[her] products to sit at the port for a very long time before [being] transported.”
On the other hand, Russo adds that, “a lot of people are eating at home [and] cooking more, so [Russo’s] products are perfect” for supplying them with cooking ingredients.
Moreover, while many businesses throughout the country have been struggling, these local business owners reveal that the community of Montclair has played a major role in allowing these newly opened businesses to stay afloat during these difficult times.