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  • Christina Helms

An ode to small businesses

I never paid all that much attention to my shopping habits before the pandemic. In the past 20 years or so of my life, I’ve been privileged enough to be able to eat out, buy new clothes every season and waste tons of money on little luxuries like coffee, books and $50 facial moisturizer.And even though I’m a small business owner, I never really stopped to think about whether I was buying from a chain or from a sole proprietor. If the leggings I wanted were at Athleta, well then, I went to Athleta. Alternatively, I went out of my way to get my coffee from The Able Baker in Maplewood, not because I was supporting a small business, but because their coffee is a gazillion times better than Starbucks.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when ALL businesses had to shut down, from the big guys to the little guys like the yoga studio I co-own in Florham Park, that I came to the stark realization that independent businesses make this world a much, much better place. We all took so much for granted and this pandemic has certainly shined a bright light on all of that. From eating out to hugging, we’re all learning to appreciate and treasure the simple things. For me, I’ve been feeling the loss of browsing through my favorite local bookstore Words, taking a yoga class at my beloved Yogamaya NYC or having dinner with my family at Raymond’s in Montclair.

So what makes small businesses so freakin’ awesome? Well, it may be a cliche but it’s the truth: small businesses are literally labors of love. Not one of my fellow studio owners is getting rich off of their studios. Heck, many of us barely take a paycheck. Plus, starting your own business is terrifying; yes, there’s the financial investment, but putting yourself out there like that, while every naysaying voice in your head is telling you you’re gonna fail, takes massive amounts of courage. The ONLY reason to start your own fitness studio, bookstore, restaurant, or bakery is because you love what you do and you want to share it with others. Independently owned and run businesses have heart and soul, and while I love a good Target run as much as the next person, you just can’t say the same for a big box chain store.

So when news came out last week about giant restaurant chains like Shake Shack receiving millions of dollars from government funds established specifically for small businesses, I almost cried. The deck was already stacked against us and now this? How will we all survive?

And honestly as much as I’m worried and sad about the prospect of losing my own business, I just don’t want to live in a world of only Walmarts, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts.

Still, I remain hopeful. Four years ago when we first opened our doors, I was too insecure to think that anyone would actually show up. But miraculously they did, and, they kept coming until this beautiful community of just about the nicest people you’ll ever meet grew and grew. And guess what? Those people continue to show up even without our beautiful, sun-filled space. Because it isn’t about that. It’s about the seed my partner and I planted and the love and care we put into tending to that seed that grew into a special place. I’m not sure how this is going to work and I’m not sure what Three Birds will look like in six months but I do know we will keep the heart and soul of our small business alive. One way or another.

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