Letters From Home: 'May God Now Bless Our Small Businesses'

Jun 18, 2020

WOSU's Letters from Home collects stories about day-to-day lives during the coronavirus pandemic. This week, we heard from Ohioans answering the question: What are you adding back to your life as Ohio reopens?

Read responses to this week's question and other reflections from Ohioans below.

Lilli-ann Buffin from Columbus

Retail shops are re-opening. I am grateful to have these brick and mortar stores in my neighborhood. I hope they can stand up to both Amazon and the coronavirus. These small businesses are vital to the life of a community. I look forward to patronizing these familiar hives of life and activity.

My grandparents owned and operated a small grocery business. It had a name, but to all of us in the family, it was known simply as “The Store.” That small shop became the crown jewel of my childhood. I wish that every youth could have such a place.

It was at The Store that I came to know the members of my community. It is where I heard their many languages and became familiar with their accents. I learned their stories and overheard many of their problems. The shoppers sought out the ingredients for their special recipes, a rich menu of native foods.

My Aunt Phoebe, the oldest of my grandparents’ children, ran the grocery business throughout my youth. She had a gift for languages and was skilled at rapidly switching tongues. Even though I knew these people came from many different countries, because of Phoebe’s skill, I thought there were only two universal languages, English and Polish. Never mind the fact that my grandparents came from Lebanon, and I heard my grandmother speak Arabic in our home.

For the most part, in this small village, people came to The Store on foot. The majority of shoppers were women. Though post-war advertisers targeted these women with the goal of turning them into buying machines, even from my child’s eye-view, I could see why women loved to shop. It got them out of the house and into communion with others. These women spent a few dollars and shed a few worries. The pantry was restocked, and they left The Store with some fresh hope in a brown paper bag.

Those women all seemed so old to me in their long skirts and sturdy shoes. They were unembarrassed by the graying of their hair that they sometimes covered with babushkas - out of vanity but because of weather or custom. They smelled of garlic and spices. They did not visit salons for manicures. Their nails were shaped and worn from work and colored from the earth’s soil, coal dust, or simmering red beets. I was taught that all of these were signs of women worthy of my respect.

It was at The Store where I learned to work, bagging groceries, dusting and stocking shelves. I learned how to read the wholesale catalog to determine the suggested retail prices. We used an ink stamper to price each individual item. There were no computer codes or scanners. My fingertips became black from the ink as I turned the sharp, tiny dials to change the prices.

There was a single checkout lane and cash register, a handful of grocery carts. I learned the checkout procedures and how to ring up a sale. We punched each digit into the round black cash register keys and learned how to count back change. Before credit and debit cards, customers had accounts. There was a little book for each customer. We kept track of the growing balance and payments. There were no collection services. My grandmother and aunts were well known for looking away when someone could not afford to pay.

I had the opportunity to learn where and how people lived, as I helped to carry or deliver groceries to their homes. Sometimes we would be sent on secret missions to deliver anonymous bags of groceries to the front porches of neighbors in need.

Through the years, even as a young adult, I continued to return to my grandmother’s house and to The Store as often as I could. The Store was small by today’s standards. Had we been forced to “social distance,” we might have been able to have four of five shoppers in the store at one time. It was small, but The Store was the world to me. I could always find someone I loved and someone who loved me. It was in The Store that I joined in the work of my family and the life of my community. I could hang out or help out. No Ivy League education could have been finer.

The family business is long gone. If I were able to see it one more time, I would genuflect upon entering, for it was at The Store that I learned work can be a prayer and a shop can be a place of devotion. It is where I learned how to love my neighbor and when to pass the basket. In the check-out lane of The Store, I learned that I was blessed.

May God now bless our small businesses, their owners, and the communities served.

Emily DeArdo from Pickerington

I am really excited to get back to mass. For me, the problem is that I'm immunocompromised (I had a double lung transplant almost 15 years ago), so that makes deciding what to do hard.

I'm really excited to get back to movies, eating out, browsing book stores, and church, but at the same time I have to be careful and protect my health. So, it's a lot of balance: trying to keep my sanity intact while also safeguarding my health! But I know that once I'm allowed back to mass, it will be incredibly joyful.I've missed my parish!

Jen Walker from Columbus

I'm spending a little more time with close friends and family. Not going crazy by any stretch, but this stay-at-home time has shown me who and what I've really missed, and I am making opportunities to see those that are important to me. I've had get-togethers at parks, each other's homes, and a couple of trips out to restaurant patios so far (but still not all that comfortable with restaurants in general if I'm being honest about it. And I used to go out all the time!)

Rose Storck from Columbus

I am hanging out with my friend more. In fact, I am writing this from her house, after a sleepover.

Rami Ungar from Columbus

I'll be going to a restaurant with some family very soon. Obviously, we'll be taking precautions: the restaurant is operating at half-capacity, and we'll probably wear masks along with the staff. But it's something we want to do, especially since some of us haven't seen each other in person in ages.

Susan Brandon from Westerville

We are adding back time with friends - outside and 6 feet apart, of course. A few mom friends and I went strawberry picking with our young children. We kept to our own rows and talked loudly to each other. I went to Top Golf with two friends and kept some distance between us. 

We have playground play dates scheduled for July. I’ve talked to my youngest (6 years old) about the importance of not touching others and giving everyone space. We’re happy to now be at a point in life to put these practices in motion!

The Brandon family has continued to enjoy the outdoors with activities like strawberry picking.
Credit Susan Brandon

This week, Letters From Home is asking the question: What are you adding back to your life as Ohio reopens?

Answer this question using the form below, and try to keep below 1,000 words. Your response may be edited for length and clarity.

WOSU brings you Letters from Home in partnership with the Columbus Museum of Art.