The safest skin care, the right wine, the perfect plant – all on the road to recovery

Chloe Poulter was on the eve of opening Bohemia Skin and Body in 2020 when quarantine was declared. Turning to selling products, she held her ground until she could open spa services in 2021. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

This story is brought to you by the City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development.

To say that small businesses are Berkeley’s economic engine is by no means hyperbolic — 99.98% of businesses in Berkeley are small, according to city data.

But Berkeley’s small businesses do more than serve as an economic engine and biggest job creator. As summer approaches after two long years of COVID-19, they also provide opportunities for self-care, pampering, and even indulgence.

As the nation honors America’s Main Street entrepreneurs during Small Business Week (May 1-7), why not take the opportunity to spoil yourself or your friends and family? For the city’s more than 4,000 small business owners, your treat will be their recovery.

Relaxation and commerce converge in Bohemia

“I think it’s important for the public to know that the pandemic isn’t over for small businesses,” said Chloe Poulter, owner of Bohemia Skin & Body. “There are supply chain issues, inflation, labor shortages. It will take years of collective work, with strong community support, to recover.

Poulter should know. After investing all of her life savings in renovating a storefront on Prince Street just off Claremont Avenue to open her own holistic spa, she learned — the night she planned to hold her grand opening — that the city had called everyone. people to stay at home.

It was his first solo entrepreneurial experience. In addition to facials, massage, and waxing services, she emphasized safe, clean, and top-notch skin and body products. Free of heavy metals, carcinogens, sulfates or chemicals. And yes, products that are recyclable, sustainably produced, fair trade certified – and, where possible, locally made like Berkeley skincare designer Marie Veronique. “I wanted the highest standards, the best and safest products for people,” Poulter said.

Instead, she had a closed store with no opening schedule.

As a new business with no operating budget or payroll history, Poulter was ineligible for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. And she had exhausted her savings. After a few weeks, she turned to retail, turning her waiting room, a few blocks from the Elmwood shopping district, into a boutique selling her hand-selected skin and body products. .

For a little whimsy, she added some of her father’s handmade dollhouses and their hand-sewn mouse inhabitants. “I certainly wasn’t thinking about the sales when I put them on – they’re just beautiful works of art, made by my dad,” she said. “But people loved them.”

AND AFTER

· Treat yourself with gifts or services from local businesses that accept Berkeley Bucks gift cards.

· Tell micro business owners (with less than five employees) impacted by COVID-19 regarding the possibility of applying for small and micro business grants ($2,500) starting May 17.

· To visit Discovered in Berkeley to find more stories about innovative local businesses.

Between the retail store and the dollhouses, she hung on for almost a year. Then, in February 2021, she reopened the spa, this time remodeled for the COVID-19 environment. She spent thousands of dollars buying medical-grade PPE, face shields, air purifiers and cleaners. She tested herself weekly for COVID-19 and demanded proof of vaccinations from customers. “I was desperate to show that my industry could be safe.”

Although business was initially slow, clients are now queuing for her services, so much so that some are waiting weeks for a spa appointment and she has created a second treatment room. “Too much happened to feel fully safe,” she said. “But I am so grateful to my neighbours, my customers and the support of the community. And I still have hope.

Finding the “right bottle” at Northbrae

Art Kinsey, owner of the Northbrae Bottle Shop, features local winemakers and distillers. Credit: Northbrae Bottle Shop.

For businesses allowed to stay open, the past two years have seen a dizzying cycle of pivots — takeout, web-only sales, delivery-only models — on top of having to paint circles of distancing on floors, installing hand sanitizer stations, erecting plastic barriers and updating masking signs and vaccination evidence.

This was the case for Art Kinsey, owner of Northbrae Bottle Shop on Hopkins Street. Kinsey has spent 18 months of the pandemic working alone, six days a week, setting up and reconfiguring his store for optimal security. “It was really difficult,” he said. “At first, the focus was on surfaces. If someone took a bottle of wine, just to look at the label, I had to wipe it down immediately. It was very nerve-wracking and time-consuming. »

Still, he didn’t feel like he had “a choice.” His entire adult life has been spent in the neighborhood. He moved there a few months before his daughter was born – she is now 27 – and ran the Gioia Pizzeria next door until he opened Northbrae Bottle Shop nine years ago. The intention of the shop was to offer a curated selection of local, rare and artisanal wines, beers and spirits, as well as advice on pairings, cocktails and provenance.

“I recognize that people can get wine and beer at Costco and elsewhere,” he said. “But I love supporting our local brewers, distillers and winemakers. I do not use any national distributor. All beers, with one or two exceptions, are produced within 100 miles. It’s about showcasing our remarkable West Coast expertise.

It’s also about connecting that customer with that good bottle. Rather than switch to curbside pickup or delivery, Kinsey opened daily as usual, but limited business to one customer at a time. “Of course that meant there was always a queue. And I always felt the pressure of the line.

“People could have gone elsewhere or had it delivered by a big box store,” he said. “But people came to me. They were queuing. They were patient. They allowed me to continue. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.

Nourish life, plant kind

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María Blum-Sullivan moved her Paraíso Plant Studio from downtown to Fourth Street during the pandemic. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

The community is also what propelled Paraiso Plant Studio owner Maria Blum-Sullivan through the vagaries of the pandemic. “With no ability to go out, there were small retail stores like mine that met the need for community. People could come in and have human interaction. They call it plant store cheers.

But the difficulty of maintaining a Cheers-like environment in its previous location, the alley behind downtown Jupiter, became apparent early in the pandemic. A one-person-at-a-time policy led to hour-long ‘halfway’ queues and concerns about being able to serve everyone as they wished. “It almost broke us,” she said.

Paraiso Plant Studio specializes in indoor plants for every person, whether that person lives in a studio apartment with limited sunlight or has a porch large enough to have a tropical garden. Online sales and deliveries helped them through the worst of the pandemic, but maintaining an in-person community connection was most important. “There were so many pivots at the start, and some that didn’t work out,” she sighed. Then she was lucky: a space on Fourth Street opened up and Paraiso Plant Studio was replanted. “People I hadn’t seen in months started coming back.”

As a queer Latina, community is the reason she chose to plant her store in Berkeley in the first place. “I come from a really tough background and workplace, where being queer was something we had to shut up about,” she said. “People here are really excited to support a Latina-owned business and a queer business.” (Her store also prioritizes sourcing from minority-, women-, and gay-owned businesses, including a vendor interest form on its website.)

People also seemed to instinctively understand the value of plants in containment. “I completely understand how powerful and therapeutic nursing a plant can be. I had severe postpartum depression and for me gardening was a way to go.

As these companies, and many others, continue to grow, let’s support them by indulging us. There’s no better way to honor the moms, dads, and grads in our lives during the holidays and upcoming celebrations than with gifts from unique Berkeley shops and specialists.

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Plants and accessories at Paraíso Plant Studio. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

This story was funded by the City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development. The office helps new and established Berkeley businesses build strong community connections, navigate local politics, find affordable financing and real estate — and become more sustainable. During the pandemic, OED staff are helping entrepreneurs, artists and community organizations maintain business continuity and plan for a brighter time ahead.

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