Ashley Preece tapes striped tissue paper to a gardening pot that’s about to get filled with plants and picked up from her Southeast Portland plant shop by a DoorDash driver.
At first, this Friday appears typical for the Glasshaus Gardens owner — except the store opened a tad later than normal, and her 11-year-old daughter is playing with Elmer’s glue slime in the back.
Preece’s daughter, a student in Portland Public Schools, has been out of class for 11 days because of the ongoing teachers strike that began Nov. 1. Since classes were halted at 80 campuses across the city, Glasshaus Gardens has moved to variable hours.
“I’m not going to sit here for eight hours with my kid trying to keep her busy and not on a screen,” Preece said. “So we’ve minimized weekdays to four hours.”
However, Preece said the strike is not the biggest challenge her shop faces. Business was already slow, mirroring a trend economists say is happening for small retailers across the country as high inflation causes consumers to change habits. They’ve shifted spending away from retail goods and toward things like entertainment.
Preece said she thinks that’s the main factor contributing to one of Glasshaus’s slowest years since opening in 2017. While the uncertainty around the strike is adding to her challenges, Preece said the disruption is worth it in the long term if it yields a better school environment for her daughter.
Businesses across Portland have responded differently to the strike. Small retailers like Preece have changed hours and adjusted staffing. Restaurants and food carts close to schools have made similar changes, while others have prepared for more school-aged patrons. Across the city, businesses ranging from breweries to yoga studios to restaurants have offered discounts and free services to teachers on strike.
Larger retailers, such as grocery stores, are unlikely to see a change in business due to the strike, although they may have employees who are impacted. A spokesperson for New Seasons Market said in an email that the store made changes to its attendance policy, such as allowing impacted parents and guardians of children affected by school closures options to stay home if they cannot find child care.
But small retailers were struggling before the strike hit. Luke Pardue is an economist with Gusto, a human resources and payroll company that works with 300,000 small and mid-sized companies across the country. He said Preece’s experience with Glasshaus Gardens matches national trends.
“These last three years have been incredibly difficult for small and mid-size businesses,” Pardue said. “They’ve had to deal with curveball after curveball, and nowhere have those challenges been greater than for retailers with brick and mortar front facing stores.”
Pardue said the businesses working with his company are growing headcount at about half the pace as last year, when businesses grew at about a 4% rate. He said inflation can especially hurt small retailers because consumers might view smaller shops as places to buy luxury goods instead of essentials. And while spending has remained somewhat strong in the face of inflation, Pardue said, that’s mostly due to people buying more concert tickets, restaurant meals and other experience-based purchases.
In Oregon, data from the federal reserve bank shows retail spending growing at a slower pace since the summer of 2022, with a significant dip in the warmer months. In Portland, the Metro Chamber estimates 28% of workers in the city are employed at small businesses.
Preece at Glasshaus said the strike came at a time when business was already lackluster. She had strong sales through parts of the pandemic and in the middle of 2022. However, sales dropped this most recent summer, and she had to let go of three part-time employees.
Now, the walkout is impacting her in multiple ways. She’s adjusted hours at the store, is still seeing slow sales, and — like many other parents trying to work while keeping their out-of-class kids engaged — she’s allowed more screen time for her 11-year-old than normal.
“I think mostly people are very frustrated,” she said. “But they’re willing to sit it out and support the teachers because it only benefits literally the whole community in the end.”
After that, she hopes business gets back to normal.
Editor’s note: This story has been clarified to say that businesses working with Luke Pardue’s company are growing headcount.