Mallory Shelter, a jewelry designer and owner of Union Market District shop Shelter, says that in February, her store doubled its business from the year before. But by mid-March, it was temporarily closed due to coronavirus concerns
“If you’re looking at trends and sales growth, we were kind of counting on that growth [continuing],” she says. Shelter estimates that even with online purchases, her store—which sells jewelry, accessories, and other items—has seen a 40 percent drop in sales. After talking with some other small business owners around town, she had an idea.
This weekend, Shelter will stage a virtual Small Business Saturday, spotlighting more than 100 D.C. businesses that have been impacted by by the pandemic, and encouraging Washingtonians to buy local. Small Business Saturday, which was created in 2010 by American Express, typically takes place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and gives businesses like Shelter’s a big boost.
“Knowing that usually Small Business Saturday is such a great day, I was just like, ‘Why don’t we just do it online?’” she says. Shelter started a website and put out calls for other local businesses to participate, and encouraged people to share it. Before long, her inbox was flooded with messages. She was still getting new inquiries as of Friday.
Participating businesses include Salt and Sundry, Politics and Prose, The Coffee Bar, Cherry Blossom Creative, Shop Made in D.C. and many more. Shelter’s D.C. Shop Small website has links to each business’s page, and Shelter is hoping locals will support them by making a purchase on Saturday. If someone is unable to do so right now, she encourages them to share the website with friends and leave reviews for businesses they love on Google, Facebook, and Yelp.
Some retailers are offering site-wide discounts and free-shipping offers, and others are donating a portion of proceeds to local non-profit organizations like Capital Area Food Bank, José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, and others.
This time of year is usually among the busiest for Shelter’s store, as customers buy gifts for Mother’s Day and graduations. As is the case with many local businesses, the closure has taken a toll. Before she closed her shop, her staff consisted of 12 people, including herself, three of whom are full-time. Shelter says nearly all her part-time employees gave up their hours so she could put the money towards paying the store’s two managers, who rely solely on that income.
Some other local groups are also holding similar events. From May 1 through May 8, the Georgetown Business Improvement District is hosting a Virtual Georgetown French Market in place of the annual event that was scheduled for this weekend, featuring locally-owned boutiques, cafes, and galleries.
Shelter hopes the virtual Small Business Saturday makes people think twice about where they shop online, and consider buying from local retailers when possible. She’s also open to holding another event, depending on how this weekend goes and how long the shutdown lasts. In the short term, wants the D.C. Shop Small website to serve as a digital directory for Washingtonians, and plans to continue to add more businesses.
“Without small businesses, a community or a city looks very, very different,” Shelter says. “And so this is hopefully a signal to those people that it really matters where and how they spend their dollars.”