At Giblees menswear in Danvers, business is off 90 percent after having the best year in the store’s history in 2019. Even earlier this year, the store was doing “phenomenally” before its sudden shutdown on March 19 due to COVID-19, said Alan Gibeley of Ipswich, who has been president of Giblees since 1996.
COVID-19 has not only affected thousands of local Jewish families, but also decimated their hard-earned businesses, many built by families over the course of generations.
Under normal circumstances, Gibeley would have expected the brisk pace of business to continue into spring. “We usually have tons of weddings, bar mitzvahs, and special events that people are buying black tie items for, and a tuxedo division for all of our prom rentals,” said Gibeley. “Our best time of year for proms and weddings is from mid-March to mid-June, so the timing of this absolutely crushed our prom business.”
Gibeley is hopeful for the imminent reopening of the Danvers store, which was started by his grandfather Joseph over 50 years ago. Except for a few brief periods, he has worked at the store since childhood, when he vacuumed, unpacked merchandise, and prepared boxes.
Robert Cashman, president of Metro Credit Union headquartered in Chelsea, expects the pandemic could permanently change consumer-buying habits to the detriment of small businesses.
“Social distancing has forced consumers to accelerate online ordering activity and home delivery,” he said. He believes that large companies, which have been able to scale business faster and more efficiently, may have permanently influenced consumer spending.
For Steven Adelson of Peabody, owner of Teddy Shoes in Cambridge, advice from his son may help him save the business. “About March 11, I began to see the writing on the wall,” said Adelson, 65, about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I try to do a lot of social media, and I could see immediately that, like, 90 percent of our business was gone in the first week. I could tell we were going to have to temporarily close.”
In business since 1957, Teddy Shoes was started by Adelson’s father in Inman Square, Cambridge, after a stint in the U.S. Navy. At that time, the store specialized in factory seconds and cancellations, selling them at a fraction of the price of other retailers.
In 1978 following college, Adelson joined the business, which had grown to three successful stores around the Boston area. While the store sells a range of shoes, it’s now a top local vendor of dance shoes, accounting for the vast majority of current business.
Adelson spoke to his son Jared, 22, about his dilemma. “I said ‘How am I going to pay my bills? I have already contacted my landlord to let him know I am working on it and I hope to be able to pay, but it’s very challenging to get money when there is no money coming in.’”
Jared, 22, suggested that his father start a GoFundMe campaign and share his story with the community in the hopes of raising enough money to pay some bills and keep his store alive.
Once the two decided to try to raise money through crowdfunding, they came up with the slogan “Keep Teddy Shoes Alive” and went live on March 22. To date, 77 donors have raised $14,000 toward the campaign goal of $62,000.
Cindy Yanofsky, 59, owns the Scoops N’ More ice cream shop in West Peabody, a seasonal business that is normally open from late March until just before Thanksgiving. This year, although she could technically open since the shop is a food service business, she chose not to.
“The Board of Health has allowed ice cream shops to remain open, but I didn’t feel it was an essential service,” she said.
Instead, with the help of her husband Mark, she set up an online service for preordering a limited selection of the shop’s ice cream goodies in time for Mother’s Day. The orders were prepaid and a pickup time was specified to limit traffic into the small shop, with curbside pickup also available.
“Generally, Mother’s Day can be one of the biggest days of the whole season, but I intentionally scaled it down to less than 50 orders to start,” said Yanofsky. After the success of Mother’s Day, she plans to continue offering a limited menu online with designated pickup times and no walk-ins.
After 16 years in business, Yanofsky remains optimistic. “One of the great things is working in the area where I grew up, where my children grew up, and where they went to school,” she said. “Kids ride their bikes down and it’s really nice. You really get to know everybody.”