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Ask Amy: Business is slow and we’re struggling

Dear Amy, I am a business owner with a small retail store located in a thriving community.

We rent our space and our staff includes family members who work for free so we can keep our doors open.

The store is a labor of love and is a gathering place for members of the community.

That being said, business is very slow and we are struggling.

The COVID years saw our complete shutdown (in accordance with state mandates) and business came to a complete standstill. The tourists who used to be our main guests/buyers have not returned since COVID.

Local businesses and non-profit organizations are constantly reaching out to us for donations and sponsorships.

These include schools asking for donations for raffles; museums asking for triple figure donations for their fundraising events; non-profit organizations that raise money for good causes; theaters and local newspapers asking us to buy ads (“for just $275 a week”), and more.

We have always supported them where we could, even giving gift certificates to our store, but now I am overwhelmed.

Some days I am choosing between buying food or gas for my car so I can drive to my other job.

Our business account is empty and it’s all I can do not to cry when asked for donations.

They ask in phone calls and then follow up in person and via email, copying others in these emails, making it seem like we are an uncharitable business.

Some of those who ask even comment that we are in “this town”, so we must have the money and the means to donate.

How do I respond to these people? I’ve always been taught to “never complain, never explain”, and I don’t know how to tell them I’d love to donate, but we just can’t.

Our hope is to keep our store running for a few more years as our business recovers from the pandemic, but I also fear that we will lose respect from members of the community who think we are stingy and uncharitable.

Your advice?

– Worried store owner

Dear Concerned: My advice is to keep a simple, honest, and courteous written response: “As our business continues to recover after our lengthy closure during the pandemic, we find ourselves unable to donate to your very worthwhile cause. We hope to see you in the store very soon.”

I hope your fears regarding your reputation are an exaggerated response to your prosperous environment. You have to assume that other local family businesses are also on the edge. (Connecting with others at a local small business networking association might help you see you’re not alone.)

Remember that the people making these requests probably don’t realize that yours is the fifth “request” you’ve received this week. A quick, respectful, and definitive “Sorry, we’re tight, so not this year” should send them on their way.

Hang there. You’re not alone.

Dear Amy, I live with my daughter and son-in-law in my own private rooms, which I paid them to build.

My area covers about a third of the house.

I try to give them their space and live independently in my unit, which is attached by a hallway to their two-story house.

We are a loving family and I have a perfect son-in-law.

I said that I would pay a third of the utilities, which include heat, air conditioning and garbage collection.

I am retired and live on Social Security.

They are successful full-time business people.

My daughter thinks I have to pay half of the utilities.

Agree, I do not suffer and use the heat and air for my comfort.

The elderly do not like to shiver all winter or sweat all summer.

Is it fair to split the costs 50/50 or should we pay according to our purchasing power?

– cool customer

Dear Awesome Customer, No, it doesn’t seem fair to split the costs of these utilities 50/50.

It also doesn’t seem fair to pay for utilities based on your income.

The obvious solution (to me) is that you pay a third of the utilities, since you occupy a third of the space and are a third of the occupants.

You may consider installing a gate between your unit and your house (for energy conservation purposes) and perhaps installing a separate meter for your unit.

Dear Amy, “Organizer with a Problem” conveyed extreme frustration about how his “politically based affinity group” had become a dysfunction.

They need to use Robert’s Rules of Order: Make a motion, discuss, and then vote. That will prevent the minority from ruling the group.

– Been there

Dear been there: I vote “yes!”

(You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @asking either Facebook.)

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