The news and regulations change every day, but one thing is for sure: Fashion is taking a major hit due to the coronavirus pandemic — particularly local indie boutiques. After initially limiting their physical storefront hours, these businesses have since shut down per instructions from government officials; now, in some cities, temporary closures of shipment facilities have also taken place, putting a hold on online order shipping. With these businesses unable to stay open, fulfill orders, and losing out on potential sales, leaders in the retail industry are asking for emergency aid, including financing loans, grants to cover employee salaries, and tariff and duty relief for the next 12 months.
"At this point, I'm applying for an SBA disaster loan," Geraldine Chung of LCD, which has two Los Angeles locations, tells NYLON. "I have basically told my employees to apply for other jobs. There's no cash flow."
Chung's business was first impacted by the global spread of coronavirus around the end of February during Paris Fashion Week while she was making her market appointment rounds to buy Fall 2020 pieces from designers. The beginning of her trip was more optimistic, she recalls, but toward the end, her buying decreased, as she ended up cutting brands that she normally would've planned to have in stock. "I would hate to put someone else in a position where they produce stuff I order, and I can't pay for it," says Chung.
Shortly after returning from Paris, Chung reduced LCD's hours to practice social distancing. By the week of March 16, she closed her physical storefronts entirely and currently relies solely on e-commerce for sales. Though LCD first launched as an online store in 2012, Chung notes that 85 percent of her business is through the brick-and-mortar stores. Now, her focus is back on LCD's digital presence — communicating more on social media and providing extended discounts. To help the LCD in-store staff's income, she's boosting commission sales for when they reach out to clients.
Around the same time in Philadelphia, multi-brand jewelry boutique Ritual Shoppeclosed its doors while offering free shipping to domestic orders made on its online site, along with a slew of deals. Though owner Angela Monaco, who also runs her own namesake brand, says she puts most of her energy into her brick-and-mortar store, she has seen a spike in web sales lately. "I've owned a business for almost 12 years, and I've never experienced a time when things kind of just stop," she says. "So it's giving me a chance to improve our marketing and website. Now I might have time to do that sample sale that I always wanted to do, or go on Instagram Live and show my voice more."
Telsha Anderson was prepping the debut opening of her boutique t.a. in New York City when all non-essential businesses were forced to close. The store's website wasn't going to offer items for sale until about two months later. "With everything that's happening, the switch to online definitely had to occur," Anderson tells NYLON.
With t.a.'s physical storefront put on hold, Anderson quickly launched e-commerce with limited drops of her Spring 2020 inventory, including pieces from PH5, Priscavera, Gauntlett Cheng, and Mozh Mozh. "As an owner, it's interesting to see how I handle and figure things out in the midst of change," says Anderson. "You never know what can affect your business, so I'm trying to stay positive and move forward. That's really the important part."
"Owning a business is kind of like a spiritual experience in itself. It will make you get to know yourself," says Monaco. "I've been through so many financial hardships with this business that I've kind of come to really believe in something greater than myself that things will be okay."
But uncertainty still looms large among the retail industry, especially for independently owned stores that, around this time, would be adding newly delivered spring collections on the sales floor and experiencing one of its best shopping periods. So how can we, the consumers, help these small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic? For starters, shop online. Though some stores can't fulfill orders, there's always an option to purchase a gift card to use at a later time. Right now, that money will likely go directly to the shop's payroll or rent to keep it afloat.
Online destinations like Garmentory are working extra hard to promote its 500-plus network of indie boutiques and thousands of emerging designers. "Many of the independent boutiques and designers who make up our wonderful community have been deeply impacted by the restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus," noted the company in an official statement to NYLON. "Now more than ever, we encourage customers to shop on our platform that is helping keep these independent businesses alive during these uncertain times."
You, too, can use your own platform to promote these small shops, whether that's sharing content on social media or engaging online with businesses that you love. Chung is tapping into her influencer network to help spread the word about LCD, and has already gotten some shout-outs from Reese and Molly Blutstein (@double3xposure and @accidentalinfluencer, respectively) and Alyssa Coscarelli (@alyssainthecity). On Thursday, Chung launched "Dressing For Nowhere," a series on Instagram Stories that showcases some of LCD's very stylish friends wearing pieces currently available for sale.
"In times of uncertainty, you might not want to splurge on a $200 sweatpant," notes Chung. "But this is something people can do to help us, and it doesn't cost anything: Call your Congressperson and let them know that small businesses need help right now. Can you imagine a life where the only shops left are big-box retailers that have enough cash to survive?"
Below, we listed some of our favorite indie boutiques from across the country for you to shop and support right now.
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We are shining a spotlight on some of the millions of small businesses now challenged by COVID-19. This is part of an ongoing commitment our parent company, Bustle Digital Group, is making to support small businesses throughout the entire month of May. Tell us about your favorite small business on social media using #SmallBusinessSalutes.