The charming home decor and antique shop seems the perfect fit for Leesburg. It is tucked among other antique shops, near a restaurant, almost in the heart of downtown.
But Angels in the Attic probably will close when its one-year lease expires March 31.
The store, owned by Magda Halgash, just could not survive that critical first year every entrepreneur worries through. The economy, the sniper attacks and frequent snowfalls played a major role in slow sales, Halgash said. Now, with war against Iraq looming, she said she fears that even fewer customers will be willing to buy a $350 farm table, antique books, homemade soaps or framed poetry.
Her biggest sales day was the store's grand opening in April. Since then, it has been a daily struggle. "We were just making enough to pay rent," Halgash said. "I have never had a paycheck."
Halgash and a friend, Pam Hammond, decided to go into business together after both were laid off in early 2002. Halgash, a vice president at a VDC Video, a small video company near Frederick, Md., said they initially wanted to form a business. But as they considered various plans, a shop seemed the best fit for their lifestyles and desires.
One day, they found a spot on Loudoun Street that seemed perfect. A few days later, they signed a lease.
Halgash said the idea behind the store was to "help young women that didn't want to work away from their children and wanted to spend some time with their families and earn a living."
Each woman rents a space in the store. Some have entire rooms; one has just one shelf for her homemade soaps. The store has 10 dealers, including Halgash, who sells antiques and items she buys at craft shows. She also sells her sister's poetry, usually framed and decorated.
The women set their prices, and the store takes 10 percent to cover rent, advertising, electricity, supplies and other costs. But it was not enough . "We just didn't get enough sales," Halgash said.
"I had people who would come to visit" a table they liked but decided they could not afford it, she said with a laugh. "These things were not a priority with the economy."
Angels in the Attic's location has flaws. Town bylaws prevented Halgash from erecting large signs at the front and back of the store. There are no sidewalks in front , making the walk from downtown Leesburg difficult, and it is set off the road, making it hard to see. In addition, many people did not realize that the store has a parking lot.
Marantha Edwards, tourism coordinator for the Town of Leesburg, acknowledged that "we can't deny the fact that the economy and terrorism has had an effect" on retailers in Leesburg. "But particularly in the downtown Leesburg portion, there are a number of things going on to improve, boost and sustain the economic viability," she said.
The town hired consultants to develop a downtown business strategy. "The issue is that we're trying to engage Leesburg, the downtown portion, to become a place that's really relevant for people," she said. "There are shops [that sell] the little extras, and where the economy is not doing well, it's a little bit of a strain.
"We can't deny the unsure nature of the economy, but we have a business strategy, and we have early drafts of reports . . . to improve things and get at a grass-roots level to get residents, shop owners, business owners and land owners to make Leesburg a sustainable location."
Halgash, 43, said she is not sure what is next on her agenda, but since she lives 70 miles away in Falling Waters, W.Va., she knows that she won't resettle in Leesburg. She opened the store there because her business partner lived in Ashburn and because Halgash had lived in the area about a decade ago. She used to drive past the shop she now rents and wished she worked there.
About seven months after opening the store, Hammond was married and moved to South Carolina. Halgash never recovered. "You definitely need a partner" for a business like hers, she said. "If you're sick, you're closed." She and Hammond remain close, and Hammond will join her next month to close the store.
Caroline Mansi, director of the Loudoun County Small Business Development Center, has seen her share of struggling businesses recently. "I was seeing a lot of businesses when 9/11 happened," she said. "Then the hotels and B&Bs were really hurt with the sniper." Now, with the shaky economy and threat of war, small businesses in particular need to be careful and make sure to develop a contingency plan to ensure continued business, she said.
Business owners "need to roll through the what-if scenarios of what could happen," Mansi said. "If you're a small business, any unexpected event could be enough to close you down. Small businesses don't have the coffers of Fortune 500s."
Halgash, who has a 16-year-old son and was married on New Year's Eve, said that closing won't be easy but that it is a good learning experience for all involved. "It breaks my heart to close," she said. "But I want my son to know he can always take a chance, and if it doesn't work out, he'll be okay."