Finding Community in IsolationCOVID-19 #SmallBizSpotlight | With her vintage boutique closed for the foreseeable future, Su Beyazit is hopeful for a better tomorrow. Published: April 07, 2020
Programming note: This article is part of a weekly column on small businesses in New York during COVID-19. To get #SmallBizSpotlight articles straight to your inbox, sign up here. You'll receive one email every Tuesday afternoon. Thanks for reading!
How are you doing? I hope you’re hanging in there. One lovely new social pattern I’m noticing is that we’re actually checking in with each other. Every conversation I have, whether it’s with the deli clerk or my boss on Zoom, begins with a genuine, How are you? Our interactions, even though virtual, are suddenly charged with a new — and welcome — measure of intimacy.
As I try to adjust to this new normal of social isolation, connecting with my communities and the people who power them is keeping me afloat. Which is why for the next few weeks (or months if need be) I’m going to use this newsletter to celebrate the backbone of every community: small businesses. Please email me at [email protected] with your favorite mom-and-pop shops and I’ll do my best to feature them. For now, here’s a conversation with Su Beyazit, the founder of Su’juk, a wonderful vintage boutique/hair salon/tarot reading spot that’s been part of Clinton Hill for over seven years.
The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Su’juk sells vintage clothing, is a hair salon, and does tarot reading. What is the unifying thread?
We’ve always been a hub for non-judgmental, open-minded interaction. Most of my clients know my whole life story because I'm a pretty open book. People will come in and all of a sudden, they’re opening up, sharing a vulnerable story about something that’s hard in their lives. Being a safe hub is the essence of what we do.
Since you closed your doors on March 16th, what have you been focusing on?
Applying for loans and stimulus packages, trying to figure out what they mean. A lot of the aid packages are for businesses that have traditional payroll. Our business at Su'juk is structured [differently]: my salon staff are paid as sole proprietors, and the others rent racks to sell their vintage. I don't have any way of getting aid for them, so I decided to start a GoFundMe as a backup so we have financial relief for them and to cover some of the base expenses so that when we do reopen, there is a place to come back to. Everybody’s asking me, What if you close and can't reopen? How are we going to afford our lives in New York? My goal right now is to apply for as many grants as I can and continue crowdfunding.
How do you feel about the prospect of reopening whenever this is over?
I feel hopeful. There are definitely moments when I am sad and overwhelmed, but for some reason I don't have a fear that we're not going to come out of this fine. My only fear is navigating all the paperwork. This is a lot of new information, and nobody really knows what and how to apply for these grants.
Long-term, how do you think this will impact your business?
I think people are going to be so hungry for human contact that it's actually going to be beneficial. People will value small businesses more than they ever have, and it's going to be really beautiful. We take brick-and-mortar shops for granted, we take day-to-day interactions for granted. You forget how amazing it is to be able to go to a coffee shop and for the barista to know your drink order or to be able to go to a vintage store and for the shop girl or shop boy to know what you bought last time or know your taste so they can recommend something else. People are not going to be in the best economic state, but I feel hopeful about it. I'm happy with how [Governor] Cuomo is handling everything; he's giving us a lot of hope. New Yorkers are resilient. We are here for a reason and we can get through this.
What have the responses to your social media initiatives and GoFundMe been like?
We have gotten so many messages, even from people who can't donate, DM-ing us saying, "How can we help?" The crowdfunding is for people who are still working and able to donate. I’m not asking for money from anyone who is out of a job. Everyone has been so sweet and supportive and it's been wonderful for me to go back into the archives and remind myself how the store was built and how much love it holds for all these people.
Have you noticed any changes in what people are buying online and through your Instagram stories?
Candles are doing great. Also ritual stuff—people are excited about sage and palo santo. People are home with a lot of tense, anxious energy, so relaxing, soothing things are working more than clothes.
What are you personally turning to for comfort right now?
I haven't been buying much because there is no income coming in. I started a WhatsApp group for all my friends who have small businesses. At this point we have 23 participants. That's been giving me comfort because we all share what we're doing, like grants and other resources for financial aid. A lot of us can’t pay rent, so we’re sharing how we’re handling our landlords. I'm lucky to be part of this community of people like myself who are running and operating small businesses.
How to help Su’juk:
Until next time,