I want to open my store too, but only when it’s safe

And I’ll let the scientists tell me when that is.

I’m a 62 year old co-owner of a small business selling journals, pens and stationery just below Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue.  Up the block my uncle once had a book and record store where I got my first weekend job, 50 years ago.  A family friend ran a camera store and photo studio in the space next to us.  Even though I went away for 20 years this is my home ground. We are three years into a ten-year lease, and this was the year my wife Jenni and I were going to consolidate and possibly expand. Now, of course, we’re just wondering how we will survive.

In March we laid off 28 workers here and at our sister company in Massachusetts.  Thanks to a PPP loan we are able to pay half of our employees for the next eight weeks – thank you, America.  But what then?  What about all the tourists who won’t shop this summer in DC?  What about those lost sales which won’t allow us to build up to our back to school selection for September, much less prepare for the holidays?  What about the 1500 Mother’s Day cards we bought in January?  What about the vendors we can no longer pay, many of them literally kitchen table presses?  What about our staff?  And, what about our future?

No, we’re not a necessary business, though I know many of our customers would disagree.  To them a good journal is as necessary as a book, or that new movie, that favorite sport, an ice cream cone, a haircut might be to you.  People plan their lives in our journals.  They do their art, write their poetry, record their lives, seek spiritual expansion.  Fortunately, we do have a website, and can ship to people who can’t wait, but 2008/09 almost broke us, and this…

We’ll do what we can.  In February we installed hand sanitizers just before all the suppliers ran out.  Staff literally spent all their free time cleaning.  But our journals are meant to be held, our pens to be played with, our paper to be fondled, and we would not and will not let our shop become a vector of death and disease. We worry about our future, but not at the expense of another person’s life.

Ultimately whether and when to re-open to the public is an ethical question, a question of risk and values.  Scientists can’t tell whether or not to open, only how we as owners and what we as a society can do to make it as risk free as possible to do so. So we follow the news, try to understand the rapidly advancing science, and wait for the answers we need.  For our little shop I want to know just how airborne the virus is, and whether we’re really seeing casual transmission through contact on surfaces.  We want to see the curve really bend, and for scientists to tell us an effective system of testing and contact testing in place.  Heck, we just want to be able to get regular testing for ourselves and our staff. 

We always tried to bring beauty and love into the world and we won’t stop now.  We’ll figure something out, we have a healthy family and a community who love our store.  It won’t be easy, but we know we are still among the lucky ones.  And as eager as we are to see you face to face, across the sales counter, or in among the shelves, we will wait for the scientists to tell us it’s safe.

Robby Bick