This year’s Small Business Saturday, an annual shopping holiday meant to support independent and local businesses, comes at a critical time for merchants across the nation. They are nine months into the coronavirus pandemic that has buckled commerce, and now they are staring down a bleak winter bereft of federal relief. More than 160,000 small businesses have closed permanently in the United States since March 1, according to a report released by Yelp, with closures increasing by 23 percent since mid-July.
But where desperation festers, artistry and enterprise can thrive. Tameesha Tucker lost her father in February to a lung disease that she believes grew from an undiagnosed case of covid-19. She started an apothecary business after his death to help other people build their immune systems to better fend off infections.
“It’s an expensive business, but this is something that the community needs right now,” she said Saturday, rotating her 16-ounce bottles of Antiviral and Antibacterial Honey Syrup for display to the growing number of customers who arrived at Robin Hill Farm.
Robin Hill Farm — a family farm, vineyard, winery and wedding venue about an hour outside of the District — transformed its parking lot into a hub of small-business activity on Saturday. A couple posed for selfies by rows of vines. A handmade soap booth sent drifts of lavender into the unseasonably warm air. And one boy played with a holiday card wrapped in a ribbon before proclaiming, “Mom this is all so cool!”
Susan White, who owns the farm, decided to host her fourth consecutive small-business market to support entrepreneurs in her community who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. While her wedding business, which historically brought in roughly 75 percent of her profit, has been gutted by restrictions on large gatherings, her winery and vineyard have found a solid footing over the past few months. In addition to a steady flow of visitors, she sells 200 to 300 packages each week of her new wine tasting kit, which contains 12.75-ounce pours of wine.
“We feel blessed that we were able to have two businesses where we could rely on one when the other went own,” she said Saturday, wearing a hat that read “Got Wine?” “I feel really bad for businesses who don’t have that. We want to help support them.”
Kaletha Henry, the communications manager at the county marketing organization Experience Prince George’s, said she hopes Saturday’s market shows that small businesses can thrive in a pandemic if their communities rally behind the idea of “socially distanced destinations.”
“A lot of businesses have reinvented themselves,” she said. “So now, we are trying really hard to ensure that our businesses are at the forefront of people’s minds.”
Kenna Williams, who owns BoonDoggie Farm in Bryantown, Md., has experienced firsthand how a change in perspective during a pandemic can fuel a business. Over the past six months, her business selling small-batch pickles, jams and radishes has tripled its sales. She said she can now afford to support her animal sanctuary off the business’s revenue alone.
“I was on a three-year growth plan, and I met it in these last six months,” she said before turning to a line of customers at Robin Hill Farm on Saturday.
“Can I come up and smell those?” asked Debbie Bowling, a 61-year-old from Charles County, pointing at bushels of lavender.
“Please!” Williams replied.
Bowling went on to fill three shopping bags with holiday presents at Robin Hill Farm. She found the lavender for her daughter-in-law, an “Elderberry Super Immunity Blend” for her son, and a “Crafty Christmas” card to accompany her traditional holiday basket gifts.
Bowling said she has always been inclined to shop at local businesses, but watching her daughter-in-law struggle to keep her massage shop afloat during the pandemic has made her even more determined to buy from small operators.
“We really need to help each other right now,” she said. “Help your neighbor, help your farmer, help your craftsman. If we all did that, it’d be a better world.”
Afterward, she continued wandering through the booths spaced six feet apart, past the signs mandating masks and toward a quiet barn where wedding parties once danced.