‘Here we sit. In limbo.’ A day in the life of a small business owner during a pandemic.
I’m up by 6:00 am, but my husband Daniel has already been up for hours. He gets up between 2:00 and 4:00 am to research financial markets and potential investments. We take that first hour before the kids stir to check in on the day. What has to happen? Who is working in the cidery that day? And — these days — have I heard about any of the disaster financing we applied for and what’s the next phase of our plan to find funding?
This is what it means to own a small business in the age of coronavirus.
My husband and I opened our award-winning, boutique small-batch, certified kosher cidery, Haykin Family Cider, in Aurora, Colorado in 2018. We employ four, sometimes five people besides the two of us.
Suddenly, one day in March, three quarters of our business dried up. That was the day restaurants were closed and we were told to stay home. With an uncertain future, even liquor stores weren’t reordering. And within days, one account recalled a check on cider that was delivered in December (and already overdue). Another restaurant’s check didn’t clear because of insufficient funds in the account. Right now, I have more in outstanding overdue invoices than new invoices coming in.
Our wholesale business is basically gone. And our tasting room had to become pick up only. We make over 40 different single varietal ciders every year. Each vintage tastes unique and being able to sample our cider is an important piece of our business.
That, too, is non-existent now.
Every night, as I struggle to fall asleep, two thoughts dominate my mind: Will I be able to keep everyone employed? Will my company exist for my children to run?
Somehow, we ended March in an ok place. But that was entirely due to our cider club members and loyal customers. As the lockdown became a reality, they added to their regular orders, and that really made a difference for us. But we don’t have a club shipment again until October, and we are completely reliant on internet sales now.
We applied for an SBA loan, but we haven’t heard back yet, and we continue to look for more loan funding. We’ve been trying to refinance our existing business loans during this difficult time, but no one will answer us. They are all tied up with PPP applications. They schedule the meetings for mid-May.
By 7:00 am, our four-and-a-half-year-old son bursts into the room, vibrating with energy. Lately, he’s noticed the strain and brings each of us a stuffed animal for the day. Sometimes it’s a tiny dinosaur, sometimes a giraffe that’s two thirds his size. These “friends” sit on our desks with us all day, but he requests we bring them back for a trade before he will bring us a new “friend.”
My husband eats and then jets off to his basement office to be ready before the market opens at 7:30 mountain time. He’s a private investment advisor. A big change from his time at Lehman Brothers on Wall Street. He was right in the middle of the 2008 crash. As COVID-19 began to unfold, it felt eerily similar to him. Only this time, instead of working for a big bank, he works with his father.
I get our son dressed and get the baby out of her crib. At two, she’s not really a baby anymore, but as any mother knows, she’s the baby. By now she’s been treating us to a twinkle twinkle/wash your hands mashup concert for a good 30 minutes. We head down for breakfast and books. Oh, and dishes because I was so exhausted last night that I never cleaned up.
By 8:00 am our incredible nanny has arrived. I actually thank G-d every day that we decided to hire a full-time nanny when our daughter was one. It was increasingly clear our business was only going to get more intense and require more of our attention. I hand off the kids to the nanny and finally make my breakfast and coffee. I sit at the table eating, drinking coffee, catching up on emails, and defusing fights. As long as mom is in the room, they come to me first.
When I finally head upstairs to my office, it’s usually to a chorus of wails from the two-year-old. “MAAAAAAMA!!! MAAAAMMMMAAAA!!!” I don’t stop climbing the stairs, I have work to do. Downstairs, the nanny balances the toddler’s demands and destruction with teaching our four-and-a-half-year-old letters and writing skills before his class Zoom call (Pre-K at a local synagogue).
I spend the next hour or so digging into our finances, looking at sales numbers, trying to get updates on our loan applications. Trying to figure out what the rest of the year will look like for us.
We are a harvest-based cidery. Apples will ripen starting in August and we need the money to buy them and to support our farmers. We only work with a few farmers and we have known them and their families for years. Paying a fair price to our growers for their hard work is important to us and that means we need funds.
My husband interrupts me. Since the pandemic started, we take a daily three-mile walk with our dog near our home. The walk is an opportunity to clear our heads and keep planning. I update him on what I’ve learned, and he updates me on what he’s learned. Since I serve on the American Cider Association national board, I update him on anything I’ve heard from our members.
By the time we are home, we are tired but refreshed. He heads down and I head up. There’s city, county, state, and federal taxes to pay — sales, use, and excise tax (a tax on alcohol and a few other goods). Suddenly I realize it’s somewhere around 2pm and I haven’t had lunch. I grab something and check in with the nanny while the kids nap. We plan dinner and the rest of their day.
Back up to my office, with food in hand, I check in on our employees. I make sure they have things to do and are feeling good. I’ve enlisted staff members to help in new ways since work is slowly drying up, and still no answer if we will get PPP funding or any other help. Recently a grant application was rejected because we make alcohol.
So here we sit. In limbo. Committed to covering our staff, their wages, their health care, but we hear nothing from all the funding authorities.
It’s 4:55pm. I grab my long-empty glass of water and head downstairs. Somehow the kids are still bouncing off the walls. I get a download from the nanny as she heads out the door. Then I sit with my kids as they eat dinner.
After putting them to bed, it’s back to the kitchen to clean up as much as I mentally can before I check in on emails again, sometimes from my phone but sometimes I have to pull my computer out.
I try to catch up on my daily learning. Pre-pandemic, I committed to both Daf Yomi and Nach Yomi. Maybe I watch a 30 minute show. My husband is already asleep.
I fall into bed and wonder what tomorrow brings. Hopefully it brings an SBA PPP loan or a banker who can call me back.
Talia is a Denver-based writer and social media strategist. With her husband Daniel, she runs Haykin Family Cider. They live in Denver with their two small children and fluffy dog. Talia also represents the Mountain West region for the American Cider Association.