Erica Lurie was finalizing plans for a networking event for small business owners at her Pearl District boutique when a deadly winter storm coated Portland in ice the week of Jan. 13.
“We had to push it back” a week, said the Garnish Apparel owner, “which I think is actually not a bad thing, because now we all have a forum to celebrate the wins and workshop the challenges.”
Lurie expects storm recovery to be among the main themes of the rescheduled mixer. And it’s not just talk.
When things like weather emergencies hit small businesses like hers, she said it’s often other small businesses and community members that step in to help.
Lurie and many small business owners across the city shut their doors for part or all of last week’s devastating storm — either because of damage from burst pipes or fallen trees, or because it was unsafe for staff or customers to travel, or some combination of all those problems. Now businesses ranging from restaurants to clothing stores to hair salons are contending with days of lost revenue.
During the storm, some employees at small businesses created fundraisers to replace lost wages for staff. Some shared posts encouraging Portlanders to frequent the city’s restaurants, bars and retail shops as soon as it was safe to do so. The Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon sent a letter to the governor and state leaders asking for financial support to recover from the storm.
Yet some small business owners say it’s their peers they’re leaning on to recover from the storm. Businesses are partnering on events, promoting each other on social media and finding creative ways to encourage more foot traffic in the coming weeks.
Lurie had to close Garnish for almost a week. The store offers clothes and accessories mostly designed in-house and made in Portland, and employs a full-time stylist and seamstress along with two part-time marketers.
“The hardest thing is to see my employees not be able to come to work,” Lurie said. “We do offer paid time off, but that’s not inexhaustible.”
Some of the store’s online and social media work could be done from home, she said, but ice prevented the seamstress from traveling to the studio. But overall she feels lucky the store wasn’t damaged, and Lurie said one week of lost sales won’t significantly hurt her bottom line.
“But I know there’s a lot of businesses out there that one week really can break them,” Lurie said. “A lot of people are on the brink right now, and business has gotten so much harder – not only just due to weather events, but pandemic, and the housing crisis and rising inflation. There’s just so many things businesses have been hit with.”
At Raylee Consignment Boutique on Southeast Division St., owner Rachael Hofmann said even though she only had to close down for two days during the ice storm, sales plummeted last week.
“I’m not necessarily worried about closing the store,” she said, “but to say that we are not incurring debt this month is just not true.”
Hofmann’s store wasn’t damaged in the storm by things like burst pipes, but she would like to see more financial support from the city for businesses that were damaged. In the meantime, she’s looking for ways she can help the other shops in her neighborhood.
Raylee sits right next to Imperial Bottle Shop and Taproom, which had planned to be part of Oregon Cider Week, scheduled for the week of Jan. 13. Anticipating that cider lovers from around the world would be traveling to Portland for the event, Hofmann said the bar had stocked up on ciders. Instead, the storm canceled many of the activities, and Imperial is left with an overflow of the beverage.
“Cider is kind of my jam, and I am so excited about all the cider they have,” Hofmann said, “But they really have a lot of it. So I said, ‘Why don’t we do a cross promotion?’”
On Tuesday morning Raylee posted on social media that customers can show their receipts at Imperial for a discount on cider. Imperial customers can do the same at the consignment shop for a discount.
Hofmann said the mutual discount is an extension of the relationship the two stores already have. Raylee already offers tokens for one free beer to the bored partners of shoppers, although Hofmann does encourage folks to tip.
“Maybe a clothing store and a bar don’t seem like we would have such a symbiotic relationship, but we really do,” Hofmann said. “We get each other and it’s nice to be able to work together.”