“ For now, I still come in because if I don’t, the healthcare workers don’t go to work and we need them working to save lives.”

Judy Wong, Owner of Paws in Paradise NYC

Retail owners of “essential” businesses struggle to determine their importance as they balance their concerns for the safety of their employees and themselves with the economic reality of trying to generate sales to cover costs such as rent, utilities, salaries and taxes. As this article is being written,  even essential business owners are trying to determine if they will have a future. Here’s how one company is managing through this health and economic crisis.

Judy Wong with Ernie

What is Paws in Paradise NYC?

I see Paws in Paradise as a great way to build a community of dog and cat lovers in Brooklyn, by offering  dog grooming, daycare, boarding, and walking services combined with in-store retail of the items animal lovers (including fish and turtle lovers) need to keep their pets happy – food, treats, clothing, cleaning products, toys. Before the pandemic, we also partnered with Good Shepherd Services to give students internships so that they could get their first experience of business responsibility as well as experience the joy of caring for animals.

How has your business been impacted by the pandemic?

We decided to remain open after some of our clients, who are essential workers, asked us to stay open to care of their animals while they are at work.  So we did an email campaign to let our clients know that we are still open. That has helped bring in much needed revenue. However, more than half our business has disappeared as pet owners shelter at home – they no longer need services such as dog walking and daycare and, more and more, they are shopping online. 

Have you changed the way you operate?

I have had to cut back our store hours, but we do our best to accommodate our clients, especially the emergency workers. We also introduced free local delivery and will deliver up to one mile from our store on Fifth Avenue and 7th street in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  But it’s more challenging for us, because, as a small store, we cannot really compete with the on-line chains, like chewy.com.

How are you dealing with your employees, landlord and vendors?

We’ve had to lay off most of our employees after the first week because our business is down 85% – that was a very difficult decision as some of our staff has been with us for years. And because of the uncertainty of supply from vendors, we are being very cautious in ordering more inventory and paying just what we have to. The other day, we had $80 in sales, which is not going to help pay the rent. I worry about how to deal with our fixed costs, like rent, and if I have enough funds to last the length of the pandemic. We definitely need help from the government and I was relieved to see the small business relief programs included in the CARES Act. But we need more help, including rent relief that is not covered in the CARES Act. Luckily, we’ve talked to our landlord and have worked out a temporary payment plan.

How are you preparing for the loss of revenue for the next few months?

I don’t have the financial resources to keep the business open without income so I am conserving as much as possible and trying to reduce fixed costs. I have even applied to get reduced insurance costs through New York State of Health. I’m contacting credit card companies and vendors for different payment options. I also plan to apply for the small business loans that are now becoming available with the passage of the CARES Act.

How are you balancing the needs of your family with that of your business?

I worry about bringing the virus home to my family, so we try to be very careful at the store.  We sanitize dogs as soon as they walk into the store, wipe down the doors and counters after every customer and constantly wash our hands. It was difficult to decide to stay open with the business down so much, but it was the health-care workers who helped me decide to stay open, to do our share in fighting the virus.

What advice so you have for other entrepreneurs?

I think every small business owner needs to take full advantage of the resources available to them. With everything changing so quickly, that means staying informed and doing the legwork necessary to get the help. Small businesses are the lifeblood of every community, so continuing to advocate for additional aid to your local, state and national representatives is also critical.  In the meantime, if you, or someone you know, is an essential service worker with a dog or cat in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, and needs day care and/or wants supplies delivered, contact Judy at answers@pawsinparadisenyc.com or call 718-768-1888. To learn more about Paws in Paradise, go to  www.pawsinparadisenyc.com.

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

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