The Oxford Canadian dictionary lists the definition of the word resilient as ‘resuming its original shape after bending or stretching’ and the secondary meaning as ‘recovering from shock, depression, etc.’
Resilient is the word that friends and family use to describe Sarah Ridgway, a business entrepreneur in Prince Rupert. The word is ironic in the description because a good fabric needs to be pliable and retains its shape – that is exactly what Sarah is selling.
Ridgway has seen her share of trying times in 2020 with the challenges of purchasing a business, the global coronavirus affecting that business with cross-continent shutdowns and isolation, and then a fire completely engulfing her pandemic survival endeavours with burning her business to the ground.
Ridgway purchased a pre-existing fabric store almost a year to the day prior to it being razed by fire. She lost all equipment, stock, and supplies, partially completed and completed work by herself and clients, as well as the business space. Her brand new store-frontage sign, which had been on order, had just arrived and was waiting to be hung outside as a banner indicating a successful first year in business.
Wanting to be her own boss and combined with her love of fabric it was a no-brainer for Sarah to purchase the store she had been managing for the previous two years. Having been raised in a home where her father owned his own business, and married to a husband who has his own commercial enterprise, owning a business was a natural concept to her. She said the choice was to buy it or choose a different path.
“I wasn’t getting to put my ideas fully into it. I could see it going a different direction a little bit and everyone that has a job that they have ideas for, they want (those ideas) heard.”
Ridgway said an agreement with the previous owner was made for her to purchase the store and she started to tackle the hurdles of running a retail establishment under her own orchestration.
“I spent a bit of time dealing with banks because trying to buy a business that’s pre-existing with stock is kind of a nightmare,” she said. “Banks would tell you that they would lend for equipment, but not for stock. They were concerned about ‘dead-stock’ or stock that had been sitting for too long.”
But that doesn’t happen in her industry she said, because there is always a core of staple products that are required and due to seasonal changes there is the need to stay current for customer’s market preferences.
“You do try to be on-trend, but you’ll also need to carry what they are expecting to see,” she said. “Banks don’t know sewing, so it was really hard to get money.”
With the help of Community Futures supporting her through the set-up endeavours and assisting with a small business loan, Sarah said she managed to finalize the purchase on Oct. 6, 2019.
Many local businesses have been affected by COVID-19 and the expression “Due to COVID-19 … ” has become synonymous with stores closing their doors.
In Ridgway’s circumstance, the expression doesn’t hold weight, but rather despite COVID-19, or because of COVID-19, her first year running a business was successful and busy. So much so, she had planned to purchase a new computer system and expensive machinery to assist with operations and efficiency. The machinery would cut and quilt fabric that she’s been doing by hand.
She said she has a waiting list of customers wanting products and services. With people staying at home and socially isolating sewing and the demand for supplies has increased she said. As well Ridgway ran a successful mask-making campaign supplying fabric and necessities to the community for the much needed facial protection.
“I was more busy during COVID … than I had been. I think because fabric all of a sudden became a need. It became an essential service.”
“By doing the (machinery) upgrade, I could then set (the machine) and the computer would do it for me, so I could do other tasks at the same time,” she said. “It’s basically hiring an employee that you don’t have to pay and she’s there forever. It’s a vital part of my store and the direction on where I am going with it.”
However, the machine has not yet been purchased. This is due to a fire in an adjacent space of the building in which she was located happening on Oct. 5th, the day prior to the first anniversary of her business opening.
Ridgway said as a challenge of business ownership she is now dealing with the ‘nightmare’ of insurance.
Sarah said thankfully everything she had was on a computer web-based program so she was able to provide the insurance company with an accurate list of each item that was lost.
“I don’t think they were prepared for me to be so on the ball with what I had,” she said. “So any point of sale system is amazing for a small business to have. It’s definitely an asset.”
Because of good record keeping, Ridgway was able to provide the insurance company with 46 pages of inventory right down to each spool of thread, she said. However, she is still waiting for full compensation from the insurance company which has made setting up a new shop challenging due to only receiving one-sixth of the claim so far, she said.
While she was initially in shock and devasted after standing cold and numb in the nighttime street literally watching the loss of her business, she wasn’t going to let the destruction quash her steadfastness for being part of the business community in Prince Rupert.
She said that just as her customers have visions of different patterns and colours for their quilts, she had a vision for a restored business.
“My vision was to get back on my feet as fast as possible because there is no use in sitting still,” she said laughing. “As my friends tell me, there is no moss under my feet. I am not used to being stuck.”
And get back on her feet she did. Within three days of the fire, she was looking for a new location. Within three weeks she had secured a new location – but that wasn’t without challenges she said, as there is a definite scarcity of suitable commercial rental space in Prince Rupert for businesses wanting to set up or move. Downtown parking is also an issue, as businesses need parking close by to the business.
“I was shocked on actually being able to find a space so quickly because I looked everywhere. I went down to Cow Bay, everything’s rented,” she said. “Then uptown on Third Avenue, anything that is not rented, you probably don’t want to be at because they want you to do all the repairs.”
“Third Avenue needs a major refresher, it’s just so bad,” Ridgway said of the rental challenges for entrepreneurs. “And then any other space that comes up is becoming a pot store – like a grow op.”
When asked why she continues being an entrepreneur and business owner with all of the obstacles of running a business, she replied it’s her passion and she enjoys helping the cross demographics of customers that come to her.
“It’s my dream. I find value in it. There is a purpose to it. There is a need for it,” she said.
“It’s nice to see (customers) making all these nice things. It’s nice to see that moment that people are actually proud of what they are making. They are doing something that gives meaning or purpose or happiness.”
Advice for new entrepreneurs wanting to set up shop and avoid some of the hurdles she has had to jump, Ridgway said would be to use Shopify or a point of sale system, to have insurance and verify you have enough coverage and to pay the little bit extra each month to cover a move if one is necessary.
“You have to learn to adapt to things and don’t lump all your eggs into one basket,” she said. “Give yourself time.”
Ridgway said she doesn’t know if it is resilience that has kept her going or more of her own stubbornness. When facing adversity she said to ‘just get on with it’ and ‘get back on your feet’.
Regarding being resilient and circling back to the definition of returning to the original shape and overcoming shock, she said she hasn’t done it all on her own. Her friends, family, and the community have helped support her. She is hoping to re-open in her new location in January.
“If I had waited too long, it would not have been likely to happen. That’s how I felt,” She said. “I am very blessed to have such a good community.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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