So, how is your store doing? I just saw this very informative article from Yelp as they track business closures.  We are now 7 months into the pandemic and the impact on restaurants, salons, fitness centers, etc continues.  Some of the hardest hit businesses are what we do at Ann Peden - retail gift shops and events.  I am asked just about every day, "so, how is your small business doing?" I am tremendously optimistic and I LOVE my business but these are very hard and very stressful times to be a small business owner!  We have three locations- the retail gift shop sales are down over 50% because there is significantly decreased foot traffic in the shopping center.  Curbside pickup at the restaurants means no one walks around.  Sometimes hours go by without anyone coming in.  We stay open and pay our employees because we are trying to figure this out and keep going.  The parking lot is empty most of the time (parking used to be an issue with people having to park way back in the field because the restaurants were so full).  Now there are almost always more cars in the BACK of the shopping center where the employees park than in the front.  Sometimes people do come in and I believe they enjoy the store, but do not buy anything.  Even purchasing a $5 sidewalk sale item helps us pay the rent and employees. I love galleries, but we can't be a gallery (where people just look) -we are a store and if we don't sell anything, then sadly we close... Please recognize for businesses this is month #7.   7 months of no or poor sales has depleted our financial reserves.  I am trying everything I can think of to bring people in - creative sales, selling online, free shipping, putting together sale bundles like our Princess gift packages, having flash Instagram and fb sales, sidewalk sales, posting as much as we can to show what we have in the store and continuing to bring new things into the store to keep the store inventory fresh even when sales are down- anything we can do to bring customers in!  We have always emphasized selling art & other products made in the USA in the store (we have 50 local artists who sell their pottery, jewelry, stained glass, candles, soap, dog collars, baby gifts, masks, wooden signs, etc in the store!) but now that is even more important to me that we sell locally and sell made in the USA.  I feel great about the emphasis on made in the USA and I believe that is something special we offer to the community. At Spark 1 and Spark Too, our other two locations where we do art classes, birthday parties and events, we are also doing everything we can creatively to try to bring people in.  We have had three birthday parties since March (would normally have 3 just on one Saturday).  We have cancelled almost every class because of no sign ups.  We are trying everything we can to listen to what you are looking for and plan and schedule it (yoga class, slime class, painting fall door hangers, after school classes, open studio time, now starting a virtual learning center, selling vegetable boxes, bringing in Santa etc).  We are listening to what people say they want but what is happening is we schedule it but then get no response or so few sign ups (usually zero or one sign up and then it's so disappointing to cancel....) that it isn’t enough to have the class without losing money and we have to cancel the class.  We were very thankful to be able to have summer camp in a very reduced way (only 10 kids in each Spark for safety) but it was expensive to have individual sets of supplies for each camper, fewer campers and much more staff because we had to spread the kids out in two buildings-  so it was not profitable as it would have been in a normal year.  The reality is we have the overhead for two event businesses (and the overhead marches on) and very few events are happening right now.  I am asking for your support of my small business!  I believe we bring something very valuable to the community but without sales, we will be one of the statistics of businesses that permanently close because we can’t go on for months and months losing money.  The normal cycle of retail is we make most of our money in the Christmas season (that’s why it’s called Black Friday, it’s crazy but retail stores finally see a profit for the first time in the year on that Friday after thanksgiving, then sales in the last four weeks of the year have to carry us through the beginning of the next year).  But this year, we have lost money for 7 months leading up to the very short Christmas season and it’s hard to imagine how we can make enough to get us through the usual slow months January to May in a normal retail cycle!  And as you know, nothing about this time has been normal!  I ask myself almost every day- Is it possible for the gift store to make enough to cover both Sparks until people start booking events again?  I think it is but I am humbly asking for your support of my local business.  I don’t think we have ever had such a great selection of inventory in the store and I try to price everything very reasonably.  What I need is for you to come in (or go to the website) and shop with us!  Bring your friends, tell your friends, and please actively support local small businesses so we can stay open until this crisis lets up!!!  Right now we are just trying to keep going until times are normal again and your help means a lot to me! Please look at the picture - the doors are OPEN and I want to keep it that way : ) Thank you!!!  -Ann Peden

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