The personal struggle small businesses have gone through navigating a pandemic

Coletta Bentancourt outside of her storefront.
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In any city, suburb or small town, there are a variety of businesses operating, some big and some small. Although all businesses are an essential part of keeping an economy up and running, small businesses certainly are vital at keeping small communities alive—something that was overlooked before the pandemic hit, but after COVID-19, it’s something that is on the forefront of most people’s minds. 

The aspect of small businesses that sets them apart from corporations are the people who run them. Each venue or service provider wasn’t just started as part of a chain to keep the money flow going for a big-time company, most of the time they were started from a passion or a love and grew to become much more than just a venture for those who open them. 

Take RejuvaNew You Spa in Havertown. The pampering/health venue was opened by Paula Marinello after becoming a single mom following the divorce of her 20-year marriage. After two decades of working in spas and salons herself, that rough patch in Marinello’s life drove her to open up the business and offered her much more than just financial stability, it offered her a way to build a legacy. 

“Being [a] caretaker, mom, breadwinner [and] home maker, I had to step it up and provide the best I could while building the only legacy I knew how to, to hand down to them when I am gone,” explains Marinello. “So I developed RejuvaNew You Spa. I customized my services to reflect things my clients wished for and also the services that helped me.These services help people to look great [and] feel great, as well as creates their own personal time have for their self-care.” 

Paula Marinello with her two children. Provided

Once corona hit, Marinello did everything she could to save her business from having to close. Obviously, for health reasons, there was virtually nothing that could happen to prevent social distancing once cases began to rise, but the effects were devastating for the single mom of two. 

“This pandemic has paralyzed my business. Being forced to closed down and having to relay the message to all my clients that their pre-scheduled treatments are on hold until the government decides when it is okay to reopen was the most heart-wrenching news to deliver. My entire livelihood to minister to all my clients, provide for my children and maintain all my household and business finances and expenses was taken from me in less than a few minutes,” says Marinello. “I had no choice in the matter to close my doors. I have spent all my savings to obtain the bills in my home and business. I even started to do Instacart shopping during this time to make as much income as I could to afford to feed my family. My business landlord has threatened to sue me for rent I cannot pay due to the fact my doors had to remain closed and I had no way to bring funds into my establishment. I used what was left of my personal savings to pay April’s rent but May and June currently I am behind on. He has told me he will break the year lease I have left and has a replacement for my space.” 

RejuvaNew You Spa has not been the only personal passion project that has been hit hard by the pandemic. Another Havertown establishment, Dish & Dabble, also had to figure out a way to survive the precarious situation that hit hard this year. The BYOB Arts and Crafts Studio opened by Coletta Betancourt typically offers a unique, fun and creative experience for customers and special events, but with COVID-19’s continuous hold on the health of the community, the establishment had to close its doors. That was hard for Betancourt, who as an artist started Dish & Dabble to provide herself a creative outlet. 

“Since my business relies on large groups of people gathering closely, I’ve had to postpone, and eventually cancel all events on the calendar,” says Betancourt. “These past months I’ve been doing odd jobs like babysitting and house painting; finding a balance between staying safe as possible, and making enough money to stay afloat. After paying the shop’s rent out-of-pocket for the past four months, I’ve depleted my own resources and decided not to renew my lease. It’s been hard to accept how little control I have in this situation. In the beginning months, I was sure I would get enough government help to at least cover my rent, but as I was offered no funding, I started realizing my shop wouldn’t make it through this pandemic. This chain of events have been very unpredictable and I’ve been rolling with the punches, making adjustments as needed, and staying positive.” 

The pandemic has reached all industries, but for those who work directly with people and have to perform certain lines of work such as hairdressing, this virus has prevented them from not only keeping their business open, but has also ignited a level of uncertainty about their future altogether. For Salon Manager Yasmine Brown from Super Nail Spa and Hair Salon in Darby, the hit to her profession that has crafted her passion for 13 years has now been causing her anxiety. 

“Because of COVID, I am forced to think about retiring from the field that I love far too early. I will never be 100% comfortable going to work ever again. The pandemic has completely shut down my entire business, and because of COVID I had to start a business that could keep up with these uncertain times. I honestly do not know if I will be able to go back into the salon. My anxiety is through the roof,” says Brown. “The salon I work at had to completely shut down [and] my main source of income was halted. Thank goodness my fiancé is an essential worker, but even that has its own set of worries. Because of the craptastic leadership in dealing with this pandemic we were not left with many options other than closing.” 

Carl Henderson, owner of Carl’s Cards and Collectables in Havertown had a strained experience with the virus as well. It wasn’t an easy one, but luckily Henderson was able to pivot his business model, something that not every industry was able to do. However, the closure of his retail store, which first started off as a hobby but then became a business over two decades ago, was a hard hit for three months. 

Carl Henderson’s storefront. Provided

“We sell sports cards, memorabilia, hope related items, have athletes to the store for autograph appearances, [but the] store was closed to the public. However, we offered curbside pick up for any customers, we sold over 350 sports mystery boxes and shipped all over the country [and] we got an awesome response,” explains Henderson. “[But] we need sports to get back going because we feed off of that everyday game action.” 

With the Yellow Phase in swing and the Green Phase on the horizon, society is beginning to open back up. But the fears, anxieties and hesitations may take some more time to fade away. When wading through unknown waters such as a pandemic, there really are no guidelines on what will work. But each small business owner has found their own way to overcome. 

Since the closure of the salon, Brown has decided to retire as a hairstylist—an industry she says will never be the same. Now, she has started her own antibacterial hand gel company, because that’s what makes her feel safe rather than going back to work in a salon. Henderson’s business is luckily back open, but visitors still must adhere to social distancing guidelines and wear masks when entering. However, the impact that the lack of sports and three months of closure has caused certainly has taken its toll. Dish & Dabble’s owner Betancourt said that she has been spending time on a new business plan, which may lead her to change her painting parties to become mobile. She also has been offering new, pre-stenciled mandala paint kits, available on canvas and wood boards to the public that are available for now purchase.  

For Marinello’s RejuvaNew You Spa, there are at-home products available and with the recent announcement from Gov. Phil Murphy, cosmetology shops and day spas may begin to open—but with guidelines. That industry, like many others, may never look the same. 

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“I want people to know that our representatives have not backed up any small businesses at all. All their talk about grants and loans were false and the mass majority has not gotten approved for them,” says Marinello. “I urge people to support their small business community when we are allowed to reopen and help us to rebuild the heartbeat of our towns back up.” 

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