Small businesses try to adapt to new economic conditions

South Florida has become a sort of ghost town, with only “essential” businesses remaining open. Restaurants have shifted to delivery and carry out, but some businesses simply can’t exist without face-to-face contact.

Mike Gordillo has owned the tattoo shop Neptune’s Daughter in Wilton Manors since 2017. Since, he has watched his client base grow as he brought on talented tattoo artists who rented out chairs in the shop.

But by the end of February sales had dropped dramatically.He made the choice to close his doors earlier than most on March 10.

“My job already has a lot of stigma with preconceived notions about tattoos, so the way to stand out is always to be in compliance with the health department.” Gordillo said. “As a responsible business owner, when those [rules] were implemented, I couldn’t consciously keep the doors open.”

Further south on Wilton Drive, Claudia Castillo closed her art studio on March 19. For close to three years, it has hosted art workshops, exhibitions, offered framing services and sold art of all kinds.

“Even though we felt [closing] was the right thing to do for everyone’s safety, we were still shocked and saddened that we had to close the studio,” Castillo said. “Our studio is a retail store  . . . without the studio being open we were basically at zero sales.”

Matt and Destiny Beck opened their wellness spa, Float8, in Deerfield Beach in 2017. With float therapy, clients float in a pod of salt water that blocks sound and light for a session of relaxation and healing. Many customers suffer from anxiety and chronic pain, are athletes, or have physically taxing professions.

Matt Beck says business had dipped to 25 percent of their typical earnings by March 11. As a safety precaution, they staggered appointments. Since floaters are naked during their sessions, sanitation was already of the utmost importance. Then they were forced to close.

“The first two weeks [of closure] was all about loans and cutting all extra expenses,” Beck said. “Neither of us felt comfortable pushing sales. We’re in the business of reducing stress, not creating it. Doing a sales pitch didn’t feel right.”

Some businesses, however, can adjust to social distancing. Karen Reinstatler-Rauch has owned the clothing store Pink Slip Threads for 11 years, making the move to a mobile shop three years ago.

She’s also a regular at Old Town Untapped in Pompano Beach. Now she has beefed up her social media and website to create a digital storefront.

Making masks wasn’t a good fit for Reinstatler-Rauch. Her customers instead have enjoyed comedic relief with her sassy pins and graphic t-shirts. Customers are able to buy items through Instagram or directly on her website. The most popular items? Loungewear fit for the work-at-home life.

“Nobody is buying the leather joggers; I’m already sweating thinking about it,” she laughed. “Business has gone down. I was expecting that . . . but that’s okay because I’m hitting a reset button.”

Castillo, who temporarily closed her gallery, also bolstered her web presence to sell products and gift certificates online. She works every day, creating small paintings and greeting cards, and she’s working on a platform for online classes. She also created a GoFundMe page to help pay the studio’s bills that still come every month.

Since closing, the Becks have teamed up with other wellness businesses for virtual events. They also offer discounted float packages for clients to use when they reopen, and for those opting to pay for a full package the couple will allocate 25 percent towards free floats for  those on the frontline.

At Neptune’s Daughter, Gordillo has sold t-shirts and gift certificates. Looking forward, the future is uncertain.

“I don’t know what anything will look like,” Gordillo said. “Unfortunately, tattooing is a luxury item that will survive when an economy is good. When things are really bad and there’s bread lines outside, tattooing is not going to be a concern for the average person.”

Originally published in The New Pelican Newspaper.

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