In a typical year the type of content that dominates our year-end analytics chart for the Style/Shopping/Small Biz channel is all about pretty things. But, as we all know, this isn’t a typical year. That isn’t to say you didn’t like fancy objects and beautiful models posing as fine art, you did. But the world kept at us with news and this was a year for small businesses like no other. Here are the stories you read the most in 2020.
In the early days of a racial justice awakening in Portland and across the country, people looked for big changes and little habits they could form to support our Black community. We encouraged folks to bookmark the sites in this article and commit to buying not just today, but today, six months from now, and in the long-term future. They have. This is our top-viewed small business piece of the year, and it's consistently referred to each week.
In May, hair salons and barbershops were lumped into Phase I of Governor Brown's reopening groups, and hundreds revolted. Several salons banded together as the Oregon Hairdressers Coalition, creating a petition and social media campaigns outlining the specific reasons they oppose being in Phase 1 as technicians, primarily noting the impossibility of doing their jobs in a socially distanced manner. We interviewed many, none of whom had received unemployment insurance in the eight weeks they'd been forced to close.
In a lengthy interview with Portland Monthly, Desi Thonis, an employee at Oregon’s COVID-19-born Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, says she believes inefficient leadership in the program caused tens of thousands of self-employed Oregonians to go without any income for months after the state closures of businesses in March. We interviewed dozens of self-employed Portlanders who were all trying to fight through the problems to get the money they were owed and needed.
At last count, Oregon had over 360,000 small businesses, according to state estimates, many of which have shuttered or seen their profits drastically drop as the coronavirus pandemic spreads. And many were counting on their insurance policies to see them through. But an investigation by Portland Monthly showed that any relief could be a long time coming, if it shows up at all—unless lawmakers step in to intervene, thanks to a little known virus clause that hurt them all.
When the virus sent us all into lockdown and thousands upon thousands were eligible for unemployment, self-employed business owners, in particular, initially fell through the cracks. Several reached out to Portland Monthly with the same story: they were not selected for the Prosper Portland grants or loans, they did not receive funding from the Payroll Protection Program or Small Business Association emergency loans (which ran out of money in record time), and they still couldn't get unemployment benefits. All the while, bills from their personal lives and shuttered businesses pile up around them with no end in sight.
On April 30, Portland Monthly received a draft of Gov. Kate Brown’s Retail Industry Sector Recommendations, which included recommendations like putting up visual merchandising displays encouraging customers to maintain their distance, display signage that lists COVID-19 symptoms, and frequently sanitize high-traffic areas, common areas and high-touch surfaces in both front and back of shop for employees and customers. At the time, it was all a strange new wild west we were moving into.
Everyone has been touched economically by this virus, from closures to furloughs to constant anxiety. And while financial worries aren’t equitable with health and safety, the burden that our small businesses carry is a painful one. Big outside investments are rare. Most small startups invest every ounce of savings they have. When it became apparent how badly small businesses were being battered in the pandemic, Sarah Shaoul leapt into action and created PDXSOS, the SOS standing for Save Our Shops. (Also of note: right next beyond this list's cut off was our Definitive Guide to Shopping Local This Holiday Season which dovetails perfectly from this piece and will be useful far after the holidays.)
How a Masked Merkley Boosted Sales for a Local Boutique
At the same time, northwest boutique Folly hit a milestone twelfth year in business. And because the boutique was birthed during the Great Recession of 2008, owner/designer Sarah Bibb knows how to get scrappy and survive. Specifically, by making four-layer, quilting cotton masks. Bibb’s dedicated fan base took note and started buying them up, allowing her to keep her business afloat selling masks faster than Folly could make them. One of those mask shoppers? Oregon’s own US Senator, Jeff Merkley.
After shops reopened in May, it was still a bumpy road. Shop owners who did reopen received disgruntled calls from customers telling them they’re not allowed to be open yet. Others said they still were not sure if they were required to provide masks to their customers who showed up without them. And many store owners opted to not open at all, feeling ill-prepared physically or mentally.
As the hard, draining year came to a close, it seems we all just wanted to look at something nice. For 30 years, Jane's Vanity, a locally based e-commerce lingerie company, has brought silky nighties, lace bralettes, and velvet jackets to shoppers all over the world, often producing impressive photoshoots along the way. This time around they worked with photographer Mindy Byrd. With her signature photo-collage work, delicate black lace ruffles, beautiful full-bloom flowers, soft lighting, and stately poses, these photos are far more lovely art than they are a company catalog.