All in this Together? | Thoughts from a Delaware County Business Owner

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“They should sign a waiver that says that if they get COVID they will refuse medical care. Then I hope they do get sick.”
I started a project a week and a half ago to put a face to the people this horrible comment was directed at. Many are your neighbors, family, and friends. They are business owners, professionals, and essential workers that have been devastated by PA’s tumultuous and disorganized lockdown. They want to reopen, SAFELY, and are prepared to do so. Over the next week, I will be highlighting our local small business owners that took part in my project, but for now, here’s a small portion of what I’ve been working on.


I try to stay apolitical. As a business, I do not want anyone to feel uncomfortable shooting with me because of a difference in beliefs. Also, frankly, politics are muddy and boring. However, I cannot be quiet about this anymore because I feel that we need more voices. More people stepping up and saying, “This is not right.”


It has been 63 days since our Governor, Tom Wolf, ordered all “non life sustaining businesses” to close down indefinitely. And it has been since then that most nonessential business owners have received a paycheck in PA. For those that are still able to operate in some capacity, they are facing huge financial and emotional loss. Some are now the sole source of income for their whole family due to layoffs or high risk factors. Most “essential” small businesses have taken at least a 30% pay cut.

I want to point out to you what people tend to leave out when they come out against their friends and neighbors reopening their stores:

You can golf, here, in the great state of PA. You can purchase anything your heart desires from our Walmarts and Targets. You may wait in long lines at box stores and cram like sardines into a Big Lots. You may buy flowers, garden supplies, and home improvement items at Lowes or Home Depot. You may pick up a variety of items (and probably several diseases) at our Produce Junction. You may order a sub or a smoothie at any of our Wawas, and, on your way home, you can even pick up Rita’s Water Ice. Our state liquor stores will be happy to serve you. Our Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and a smorgasbord of fast food restaurants would love a drive through visit from you and your family. Our local Amazon warehouses are fully stocked and ready for your online splurge, to be delivered to your door by an underpaid employee wearing little to no PPE. Until the media outcry, you could have had your cabinets outfitted by our Governor’s former family owned business. Nice, eh?


I am not a medical professional. I do not know what is best for our community nor do I want to imply that I do. BUT. Either way you look at this, Pennsylvanians have been hung out to dry.


Worst case scenario, this virus is uncontrollably dangerous and we absolutely need to lockdown to prevent the spread. We have allowed our big box stores to remain open with no limits on patrons, haphazard PPE and social distancing policies. We did not require that our department stores limit what you could buy so as to deter folks from wandering and spreading germs. We have had no issues endangering the lives of our poorly paid shelf stockers, cashiers, and store crews, and we have not allowed them the option of receiving any type of benefit if they choose not to work or significant hazard pay if they continue.


Best case scenario, this virus can be contained and avoided using proper care and common sense. We have killed our local economy, forced our friends and neighbors to resort to food banks and go without insurance during the middle of a pandemic. We have policed them. We have allowed the ugly side of humanity to rear its head in our own neighborhoods.


Either way, we missed the middle ground entirely.

I am not ashamed to admit that we needed help during this crisis. With both of us deemed nonessential literally overnight, it took my family 43 days to receive a one time payment of food stamps. To be eligible for ongoing relief took 57 days, and I had to prove a negative several times during the application process. One day, the mailbox produced two different envelopes: one with an acceptance letter and the other with an  unsympathetic letter saying we were disqualified for assistance. What?!Had the stars not aligned the way they did, we would have lost medical care, our vehicle, and even possibly our home. Mortgage companies are considered essential, folks. And if you have not had to write your mortgage company or landlord to ask what happens when you cannot pay your rent, I’ll tell ya: you can get a grace period, but the total sum of whatever you did not pay is due immediately at the end of that grace period. Oh, and evictions can start back up in July.
I have seen and been told personally that for those that are struggling, there are food banks to use, that unemployment in this state is pretty rad, that “an extra $600 for doing nothing must be nice.” It seems many of those saying these things have never actually used a food bank, do not have rent due for their business storefront, and forget that COBRA for a family is about 4x that extra money “for doing nothing.” Our “nothing” has been paid for by our taxes, over and over and over.  On average, I pay about 30% of my income via Brey Photo to the state. I also am required to charge my clients sales tax, which caps what I can charge by 6%. Also, I’d like to point out, unemployment for small business owners was nonexistent up until the first week of May. Let me spell this out for you: the state forced most small businesses to close without having any sort of safety net for them even available for two months. The result? 63% of polled businesses are on the brink of closing. And that poll was done in April.
There is a peaceful rally happening as I write this, organized to protest our Governor’s overstep, and there have been comments calling those that are participating things like “Pennsyltuckians,” “Tin foil hat wearers,” and a slew of names I will not ever repeat. Comments like, “I will never shop at her store EVER again,” or worse, comments begging for others to leave faux negative reviews can be found anywhere you look. One person even said, “Let’s all roll the windows down and spit on them as we drive by.”

Amazingly, despite the negativity, the business owners that have taken time out of their day to allow me to document this time are some of the nicest folks I have ever met. All have demonstrated absolute care & compassion for their customers, many of whom have been the same for decades.


“I know every single person that walks through my door.”
“These are ya know, our family, and we have to take care of them when they hire us.”

“I feel bad. I worry about the clients that can’t afford me right now… like what are they going through?”

“Whatever needs to be done to make my shop safe, it’ll get done.”

All have also talked about how they are lucky.
“We’re all healthy, that’s all you can ask for.”
“I take it seriously because I have kids, and so far so good.”
“Could be worse, right? Could be on a vent.”

And yet, what is happening to them is something they do not deserve.

From left to right, top to bottom: Family owned Chi Cafe, MCB Landscaping, Christine Hallman of Scott Realty, Scissorworks Hair Studio, Little Paws Pet Spa, LLC.


Please. When this is over, shop small and only small wherever you can. Boycott big box stores that truly do not care about your health or the wellbeing of their employees. Write to your representatives, call their offices, bang on their doors! Reach out to your business owner friends and see what you can do to help. Better yet, just do the thing you think would benefit them most— for most of those I spoke to would give you the shirt of their own backs, but never ask you for anything. Remember that word of mouth goes so, so far.


If nothing else: understand it does not matter what side you are on. If you want PA to remain closed, great! Demand that help becomes more readily available. Donate what you can, volunteer, and do everything you can to support your small businesses.  If you want us to reopen, okay! Get out and patronize at businesses taking a stand. The truth is that we are not all in this together— that has been made clear from the start. It is literally up to you if our small businesses in our communities sink or swim over the course of the next few weeks.


PS– The woman who posted the original comment that sparked this project also requested photographer recommendations for “just a few shots for [her] daughter’s birthday,” a few days ago. My  brave colleagues defying the Governor’s order jumped on the opportunity. I wonder if she also wishes suffering upon her photographer, or if that fate is reserved only for people she does not have a need for at this current moment.

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