On her first anniversary of being in business, Jessica Crawford closed her doors.
Cotton & Co. Vintage Boutique in Keymar is nonessential, according to the governor’s order, but to Crawford, it’s life sustaining.
The boutique houses wares from 50 vendors, many of them local. The 4,000-square-foot store is full of clothing, furniture, antiques, and more.
Since most of the business is made up of sole proprietors, Crawford is the only full-time employee, which makes it difficult to qualify for aid, she said.
Nearing two months since closing, Crawford wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan and lawmakers asking for small businesses to be allowed to reopen with some restrictions.
In her letter, Crawford proposed the state allow nonessential small business owners to open their doors in a limited capacity.
“I feel like my store is safer than a lot of these other businesses that have been deemed essential,” Crawford said in an interview. “I see no reason why you can’t have 10 people in a 4,000-square-foot store.”
It would be worth her time, she wrote, to be able to offer private shopping events limited to 10 customers. She would require everyone to wear masks.
“I’m not asking to be reckless, I’m not asking to open the entire state back up, but I am asking to be given the opportunity to, in a safe manner, offer these private shopping events and go from there," Crawford said.
In March, Crawford told her vendors she guessed the boutique would be closed for two to four weeks. At the time, the governor had yet to issue the stay-at-home order.
“I had talked to my vendors the weekend prior to our [business] birthday weekend,” Crawford said. “I said, I think this will be our last weekend open for a few weeks. I think I can feel the the stay-at-home order happening and we’re gonna be happy to do our part to protect our community and protect ourselves, protect our families.”
Crawford still feels that way, but she thinks her business can safely host a small number of customers. She’s been frustrated to see parking lots at big box stores packed with cars, while she can’t have 10 people in her shop.
“We still owe rent, utilities, fees for our security system, point of sale, bookkeeping software, packaging for the items we’ve been able to sell online, and many other miscellaneous operating expenses,” she wrote to lawmakers.
Crawford transitioned to online sales and curbside pickup, and while customers have been supportive, the revenue doesn’t compare to what she usually makes.
Her business relies on in-person impulse sales. When people shop online, they’re usually looking for a particular item, Crawford said, instead of perusing a vast array of products in a carefully decorated store.
What’s more, she’s had to take on additional costs to keep herself in business.
“We’ve even had to take on new expenses to keep afloat, like a professional shipping scale and large quantities of shipping supplies, so we can continue to serve our customers to some capacity,” Crawford wrote.
She sent her letter to Hogan and lawmakers May 5. On May 8, Crawford got a call from Hogan’s communications office. She said they listened to her story and said they would relay her message to the governor.
“Our recovery is clearly going to be led by entrepreneurs like her who are committed to their customers and are determined to succeed,” Michael Ricci, spokesperson for the governor’s office, wrote in an email.
Ricci said the governor’s recovery plan includes establishing industry-specific advisory groups to develop guidance and best practices for how industries can safely reopen, including retail and small business.
Crawford said she received positive, personal responses from delegates Dan Cox, R-4; Jessica Feldmark, D-12; and Julie Palakovich Carr, D-17.
Crawford hopes her letter leads to a reasonable solution for the business community.
“There is the fear that you will become irrelevant to your customer and you will be forgotten,” she said. “I just want to see small businesses survive this."