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Dispatches from the Edge

12 small business owners on how coronavirus has affected them

The people behind grocery stores, funeral homes, and more share their coronavirus stories. Plus, advice on how customers can help.

Clockwise from top left: Dani Ruelas-Jones, Emily Taylor, S. Jason Katz, Tony Davis, and Joe Phillips.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a Globe Magazine special report, appearing in print on Sunday, March 29. It was reported between March 15 and 18.

1. S. Jason Katz, liquor store owner

“Foot traffic is definitely up, and that’s been really good. But we do a lot with local organizations that have social hours, and all of that is gone. I have a newborn, and if anything happens with the business, I will lose my family health care. Last year over 9,000 retail stores closed. I can’t imagine what the number is going to be this year.”

Brookline Liquor Mart, Brighton, 617-734-7700; Forest Hills Fine Wine, Jamaica Plain, 617-942-8813, blmwine.com


2. Tony Davis, comic shop owner

“We have an in-store subscription service [customers can have the store order their favorite comic books each month] and for various reasons people fall behind in picking them up, and we’ve been saying that now is the time to pick up your stuff to help us get through this. Today I performed curbside service and I’ve taken multiple mail orders. But it’s been a lean time. No one had the reserves to get through something like this.”

The Million Year Picnic, Cambridge, 617-492-6763, themillionyearpicnic.com

3. Emily Taylor, massage therapist and owner

“I’m worried about the future and the ability to do my work, because it’s touch-based. Closing the business, which I’m doing for safety reasons, is going to be incredibly isolating. For some people who come to see me, I’m the only person who touches them, ever. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s hard to say no to.”

Resourcery Bodywork, Arlington, 617-909-7989, theresourceress.com

4. Lauren Costello, funeral home co-owner

Costello Funeral Home, Winchester.

“We’ve had two funerals this week, both in a Catholic church, and they can each only have 25 people, including the priest, altar server, organist, soloist, and funeral personnel. It’s stressful to tell a family, “You can only have 14 people.” Families are already unsettled when somebody dies. This complicates their grieving process. We would livestream services if the family asked for it. But it’s very delicate.”


Costello Funeral Home, Winchester, 781-729-1730, costellofuneralhome.com

5. John Todd, ice cream shop owner

“We were getting ready for Easter and now we’re not going to do baskets. It’s all local people who make this stuff, so if we’re not buying from them, there’s another company getting hurt. Now we’re probably going to go right to a summer theme. We’ll go right to the beach.”

Cloud 9 Ice Cream & Coffee Shop, Melrose, 781-620-0501, cloud9melrose.com

6. Jay Devitt, bicycle shop owner

Jay Devitt, Busted Knuckle Bike Shop.

“I think everybody’s bored as hell and they don’t want to use public transit. The gym is closed, too, so people don’t have any other way to get out. It’s a good thing for a business that’s basically been in decline for the past 15 years or so.”

Busted Knuckle Bike Shop, Roslindale, 617-942-2900, bustedknucklebikes.com

7. Bill Lambert, grocery store owner

Bill Lambert of Lambert's Market.

“It almost reminds me of a blizzard. Usually if you get a snowstorm it’s like one day, but everybody knows that everything will get squared away. With this virus, there’s so much uncertainty.”

Lambert’s Rainbow Market, Dorchester (617-436-2997) and Westwood (781-326-5047), lambertsfruit.com

8. Joe Phillips, book store owner

“We’re still a refuge in the middle of the city. We encourage people to please come in. We never have many people at a time. There’s plenty of social distance from customers. They are having runs on toilet paper; there should be runs on books.”


Commonwealth Books, Boston, 617-338-6328, commonwealthbooks.com

9. Charles Fiore, bakery owner

“I’m not very fond of this term, but everybody here is using “an abundance of caution.” We closed recently to sanitize. Most important to me are the kids who work here because I love them all. I’m pushing 60 with minor health issues, so they’re trying to keep me out of here and take care of the place.”

Fiore’s Bakery, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-9200, fioresbakeryjp.com

10. Dani Ruelas-Jones, manicurist and owner

“Literally, my livelihood as a manicurist depends on touching people’s hands. I cater to corporate offices that offer different perks to their employees — and I’m one of the perks. I’ve had five things I’ve had to cancel this month and that’s my only income. I do still get calls from individuals, but a lot of people are fearful — including me.”

PopUp Mani by Dani, Roxbury, 646-820-2212, Instagram @daninailz

11. Julio Guerrero, barber shop owner

Julio Guerrero tends to a customer inside Temple of Groom.

“We only sell a service, so it’s tough now that a lot of the city is shutdown. A haircut is the last thing you need when you have bills to pay and food to buy. People don’t have to go to the office, they don’t have to go to school; they don’t have to look good. Maybe people will get bored in a few weeks; it’s the only hope we have.”


Temple of Groom, Cambridge, 617-945-1621, templeofgroom.net

12. Abby Taylor, restaurant manager

A lot of people I work with don’t just live paycheck to paycheck, they live shift to shift. So in a time when things are already very fragile in the changing ecosystem of Harvard Square, the governor’s order to close is a real hit for us. We weren’t equipped for delivery, so we had to close. But we will be reopening (Thursday March 26) for takeout and delivery.

Grendel’s Den Restaurant & Bar, Cambridge, 617-491-1160, grendelsden.com


Nearly half of small businesses had no more than two weeks worth of cash in the bank, according to a 2019 survey, making extended shutdowns due to COVID-19 a crisis in the making. The Federal Reserve has multiple efforts to help businesses of all sizes weather an unprecedented business stoppage, but neighborhood shop and restaurant owners say there are actions their customers can take that will be just as helpful. “Rather than reaching out to Amazon, find a store that does deliveries or mail orders,” says Tony Davis, who owns The Million Year Picnic comic book store. Davis says his shop has added curbside pickup service.

Stocking up on gift certificates for use later is another way to support local businesses right now. You could also urge your state and federal representatives to provide extra support for small businesses, beyond programs created to help counter the effects of COVID-19 such as the state’s Small Business Recovery Loan Fund, which gives loans of up to $75,000 with no payments for six months.


Timing is an open question, but if organizations are even thinking about big events in the future, “we would love” to talk with them, says Charles Fiore, who owns Fiore’s Bakery in Jamaica Plain. “When all this blows over we’re going to need a little extra juice in our battery.”

Abby Taylor, manager at Grendel’s Den Restaurant & Bar in Cambridge, says customers have asked if they can contribute money they would have spent for a meal, so she’s set up a Venmo account. It raised nearly $2,000 in just a few days, and will be divided among 20 restaurant employees. She encourages customers to Venmo a favorite server or bartender directly.

Interviews have been edited and condensed. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.