In the wake of something as tragic as last week's Boston Marathon bombing, the last thing anyone wants to worry about is shopping. But especially for small and local retailers, the financial repercussions from this kind of tragedy can ripple for months out, affecting sales numbers and bottom lines. We reached out to local boutiques in the Newbury Street area to see how they were holding up just one week after chaos erupted in their neighborhood, and got their personal stories on everything from how they handled Monday's explosions to what they have planned to benefit their beloved city.
As one might expect, every retailer in the area was impacted in some way; some were already closed on Monday, some evacuated, but some, like Crush Boutique, stayed open as long as possible to let people use their phone and help find friends and loved ones.
Once the dust settled on Tuesday, only a handful of stores dared to reopen in what had become a crime scene. Crush Boutique was one of them. Store owner Laura Macris said that while it was "definitely an odd landscape" in the typically-vibrant shopping area, "We had a lot of people who were thankful we were open because it gave a semblance of normalcy."
Employees wanted to come back to work as well, according to Jeanne Stafford, marketing director for Second Time Around in Boston, which has nine stores in the Boston area including one on Newbury Street. "They wanted to be at work, they didn't want to be sitting at home at that point," she said, explaining that many customers, especially stranded out-of-towners unable to access their hotel rooms (because they were still blockaded) were grateful that they were open.
Other retailers said they experienced more of a conflicted reaction from shoppers. "I had a customer come in to pick up an alteration on Wednesday, and she said she felt guilty walking down the streets with a shopping bag," said National Jean Company owner Stacy Gilman. "I think people felt like they shouldn't be shopping."
"Nobody was in the mood for shopping," agreed designer Daniela Corte, whose boutique and studio are on Newbury Street. "And our minds are not trying to push retail when people lose their lives."
Friday's city-wide shutdown was another hurdle for retailers--though it sounds like, thanks to a strong sense of community among boutiques and Bostonians in general, they handled it just fine. Corte shared an incredible story about her main stitcher, who came in early Friday morning despite the shutdown--and despite living in Watertown herself--to finish fall/winter prototypes.
Reopening for business this past weekend meant more to customers than just purchasing a new garment. "It seemed like a lot of people just wanted to talk about what happened and that's been therapeutic for them," said Macris. "Shopping for people is a form of therapy, they're focusing on positive upcoming events like weddings or Kentucky Derby parties, things that are a little bit lighter."
If retail in Boston is still recovering, the response from the national and even international community has been picking up the slack. "People are reaching out all over the world," said Jay Gordon, owner of the streetwear boutique Bodega, explaining that he had friends who owned boutiques in New York and New Jersey who were also planning fundraisers of their own. "Just this morning, we had a customer get shipped the wrong product online, and when we said we'd refund his shipping, he asked if he could give it to One Fund instead."
And Boston-based retailers have been wicked fast at responding to the tragedy, whether it be through fundraising products or sales. Boston-based sportswear company '47 Brand, which first opened in 1947 near Fenway, was quick in releasing a special "Boston Strong" baseball cap. Even though the current wait time for the caps is about two weeks, customers are willing to be patient, since 100% of the proceeds go towards OneFund.org. "The response has been off the charts," said '47 Brand rep Dan Cohen. "The website has sold a ton of them, and the store has sold out." Many retailers have been offering up portions of their sales to One Fund Boston as well; Daniela Corte and Bodega are just two of the stores doing so through the month of May.
Not even a fierce rivalry--perhaps the biggest across all sports--can stop people from showing support. "Even Yankees fans are buying the [Boston Strong] hat," Cohen shared. "They're saying, 'I never buy anything Red Sox but I'm buying this hat.'"
At the end of the day, however, most business owners seemed eager to get their employees back to work--and a sense of normalcy. Taking care of what many owners referred to as their second families, is taking priority over sales and numbers.
"I just want to get everybody back to normal and to take a deep breath," Gordon said simply.
Want to help? Shop through any of the retailers mentioned in this story, and check out Newbury Street League for more retailers and future events to benefit victims: '47 Brand Bodega Crush Boutique Daniela Corte National Jean Company