Coronavirus Chronicles: A 16th Street Boutique Owner and Landlord Navigates the Turbulence of the Coronavirus

Chris MalloyMarch 30, 2020
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Julia Fournier owns the building that houses The Hive, a compound of creative micro businesses on Cypress and 16th Streets. Eight businesses hum within, connected by a central courtyard with a small stage. Fournier runs two of the Hive’s sub-spaces, The Bee’s Knees (a boutique) and its gallery, which features a new art show every Third Friday. In short, Julia keeps a small shop yet also collects rent from her fellow small business owners.


Now, due to the spread of coronavirus, The Hive’s shops have closed. This has complicated its financial picture.


“I’ve already had three people tell me they’re paying rent for next month,” she says. “I have one person who did not pay rent, and I’m not going to make him pay rent.”


Fournier values The Hive’s sense of camaraderie above concerns about her income. “Our whole philosophy has been community based,” she says. “People all pay rent that is less than the going rate. So my business, I buy low and sell low. I want the people who come into my store to feel like I’ve gotten a good deal.”


Following the closures of her gallery and boutique, her non-rent income has also dwindled.


Earlier this month, before the city and state limited commerce, Fourier canceled a gallery show slated to open March 20. She has indefinitely postponed her April show, which was to feature illustrator and graphic artist Shachi Kale. Though Fournier doesn’t oversee the gallery for the money, this one would have been valuable, the kind of financial boon that allows other shows, like September’s annual community exhibit, to exist. “The last time I showed Shachi’s work, there was a line out the door to buy,” Fournier says.


Revenue from The Bee’s Knees has also thinned to a trickle. “I’m kind of in a slump emotionally right now,” Fournier says. “The first week, I was posting and encouraging people to buy online and to make a private appointment to come in. But I have not posted this week.”


Fournier refers to posting on social media. Though APS has been flexible, she has still had to triage bills, jettisoning crucial pieces of her business. “My fees are overdue for my website, so I canceled GoDaddy,” she says. Looking on the bright side, she adds, “To be honest, my website sucked anyway.”


She wants to keep posting to social media, to use this avenue to keep some income flowing. But there is another obstacle, one beyond finances and the emotional ennui that the general spread of the coronavirus has kindled. During the day, now, she babysits her two-year-old granddaughter, whose preschool has closed.


An online store is possible, but it isn’t Fournier’s style. “It’s an identity crisis,” she says. “What am I? I’ve had an Etsy business before, but I don’t like taking pictures and measuring things, you know what I mean? Hyping up the language. It’s not my thing.”


None of The Hive’s individual businesses are operating normally. Some, though, are operating creatively. Keri Moser of Mer Made Jewelry has pivoted to designing and selling shirts and totes that read, in the form of a vision chart, “If you can read this you are too close.” Still, brick-and-mortar businesses without robust online stores face obstacles. Even the Airbnb bookings for Fournier’s vintage trailer have been canceled — revenue that, in springs past, has gone toward paying property taxes.


Long term, uncertainty caused by the virus clouds not only Fournier’s future, but that of The Hive. “I think we’re okay if it’s two months,” she says, “But if it’s four, five, six months, I don’t know what will happen.”

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