For many businesses, the holiday season makes the entire year.
But as Westport staggers through an ominous wave of COVID infections, many merchants and restaurant owners fear they’ll be broken.
And not just for the month or year.
Lori Dodd is one of those small business owners. For 20 years, her Dream Spa & Salon has provided clients with relaxing treatments. Her customers love her, and the feeling is mutual.
But love is trumped by a more powerful force: fear.
A small PPP payout helped in the spring. Summer brought a bit of hope, and returning clients. But the long-expected second wave of infections has been brutal.
Right now, Lori is operating at 30% of her usual business. That has nothing to do with capacity restrictions. It’s clients staying away.
Stress is everywhere. Masked employees worry about exposure to unmasked women during facials. Some clients snap at employees for little things. Others balk at or refuse to pay a 5% surcharge Lori instituted to pay for PPE and related costs.
Little kindnesses help. Lori’s sign maker, Marty Rogers — a small businessman himself — offered his services gratis as Lori prepared for a grand reopening. A few clients have been very understanding when Lori rescheduled them, because it wasn’t worth opening the doors one day recently and playing desk staff, electricity and housekeeping.
Where the holiday season means merchandise to many stores, Dream Spa sells gift certificates. With widespread uncertainty about the coming months, those sales have been slow.
Lori knows she’s not suffering alone. When she picks up takeout from local restaurants, they’re empty. Sometimes, if COVID strikes the kitchen, they close.
Often, Lori says, she’s wanted to cry.
Instead she hatched a plan.
“Buy local” is not enough, she says. “The public is numb to that phrase.”
The byword should be “Save local.”
“More impactful action is needed,” Lori explains. “If we are to survive — if we don’t want to lose restaurants, retailers, salons, spas, fitness centers — we don’t have the luxury of idly sitting by, waiting for more PPP and a holiday season that is not going to cut it.
“We need community support. And we need it now.”
She created an Instagram: @SaveLocalWestport. She’s asking small businesses to DM her for details. She’ll organize a Zoom meeting with interested owners.
Lori envisions signage to be placed around town, and a GoFundMe page. Donations will be divided among members, based on need (assessed by a CPA, hopefully a donated service).
Visitors to the Instagram page will be encouraged to buy gift certificates at their favorite stores and restaurants.
In a perfect world, Lori says, if every household in Westport and Weston gave $100, all the members of @SaveLocalWestport could survive.
“People need to help,” she says with emotion. “If they don’t, this will not the town I’ve lived in for 25 years. It won’t be the town you moved to, or the one you thought you knew.”