Jewish Retailers Navigate Revenue Loss, Reopening Issues

From left: Jordan Beletz and Alan Beletz at the BYOB candle shop | Photo courtesy Wax + Wine

When Jordan Beletz closed Wax + Wine in March, he never imagined the BYOB candle-making store would remain shuttered until August.

“Initially, we thought it would be May, then June, then July,” he said.

He co-owns the business with his father, Alan Beletz, and planned for a July 3 reopening just before an increase in coronavirus cases pushed the City of Philadelphia to postpone many business activities until Aug. 1.

“A couple of days before we were about to open, that’s when the city decided to modify the green phase,” he said.

It’s been a tough year for small businesses like Wax + Wine. Pandemic shutdowns have wiped out months of revenue and forced owners to furlough employees. Recent increases in cases have pushed back even the best-laid reopening plans.
The latest rules allow indoor spaces in which patrons can wear a mask at all times to reopen with limited capacity. This includes museums, indoor shopping malls and clothing stores.

Notable exceptions include theaters and gyms. Indoor restaurants and bars must also stay closed because it is impossible to keep a mask on while eating and drinking.

Wax + Wine falls in the latter category. The business hosts candle-making parties for bridal showers, corporate events and other occasions. Participants can choose from more than 75 fragrances to create a custom coconut wax candle with the help of an instructor.
“It’s kind of like a restaurant setting,” Beletz said. “We put a big emphasis on atmosphere.”

Since Wax + Wine specializes in providing a communal experience as well as a product, the shutdown has been particularly challenging.

The store closed on March 15 and has remained shut ever since. The owners pivoted to online sales, but still lost 95% of March and April revenue.

The owners are now planning to reopen on Aug. 1, when the city may lift the remaining restrictions.

They plan to operate the store at 50% capacity and space tables six feet apart. Reservations will max out at five people, and large gatherings are still on hold.

“The experience really will not change too much. The main change is the amount of people who will be in the store at a time,” Beletz said.

He also acknowledged that frequent sanitizing will create more work for the staff, who have varied opinions about returning to work.

“Some employees are completely OK, some employees understandably have hesitancies,” he said. “It’s nothing we’re holding against them. We completely understand.”

He said he surveyed staff about reopening and most said they felt comfortable returning to work with increased precautions.

Other retail outlets were able to open earlier in the summer, albeit with increased safety rules.

Gabrielle, a clothing store in Bala Cynwyd that stocks special occasion outfits for women and girls, reopened on an appointment-only basis on June 9. Co-owner Susan Cooper said customers have been understanding in the face of unprecedented challenges.

“As long as customers and businesses are able to work cooperatively, hopefully people are able to weather this storm on both ends,” she said.

Although many events have been canceled or postponed, Cooper has noticed that customers are buying outfits far in advance of their events with the hope that pandemic restrictions will ease in the future.

“A lot of people are still hoping the event is going to take place, so they’re now reaching out and coming in and getting something for the event which might be a year away,” Cooper said.

Some events have simply adapted to new safety regulations on gatherings. Many b’nei mitzvahs and weddings that were previously scheduled to take place at large venues were downsized to smaller backyard ceremonies.

Regardless of the size of the celebration, people want to look good in their photos, Cooper said.

“We’ve been helping customers pivot from something appropriate for a hotel to something with a little more whimsy,” she said.

Some retailers have experienced issues restocking their collections due to supply chain disruptions, but Cooper said her store is in a good position.

“I feel fortunate because I took in a majority of my stock before the crisis hit,” she said.

Joan Shepp in Center City is contemplating an August or September reopening. | Photo courtesy of Ellen Shepp

Not every clothing store was able to reopen in June. Joan Shepp, a fashion boutique in Center City, had to push back early summer reopening plans due to damage and looting that occurred during the widespread protests in May and June.

“There was a lot of destruction,” co-owner Ellen Shepp said. “Mirrors, glass, furniture, jewelry cases were all damaged, all ruined. Someone stole a mannequin.”

The store has been rebuilding damaged areas and restocking stolen inventory. Shepp, who co-owns the store with her mother Joan, said they are now eyeing a reopening in August or September on an appointment-only basis.

“Honestly, it’s a lot of fun to be in there with just a couple of people. It’s a wonderful feeling of freedom to be in there and feel safe,” she said. “We are just feeling good about reopening to our loyal customers. In these uncertain times, we can only focus on what we have control over.”

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