Josh Quinn, co-owner of the Short North boutique, has overcome early anxieties and embraced the shutdown as a time to revisit priorities in both his business and personal life

In the days before Gov. Mike DeWine issued his “stay at home” order, ownership at Short North boutique Tigertree made adjustments to try and accommodate business amid the growing coronavirus threat.

Josh Quinn, who opened the store with wife Niki in March 2007, said that staff members conducted hourly deep cleanings, wiping and sanitizing most surfaces, and the retailer limited the people who could enter the shop, locking the front door when that number hit 20 in order to maintain ample social distance between customers in the 3,000-square-foot space. These same distancing measures applied to staff, meaning that only one employee could be behind the register at a time.

“And, honestly, the first day we tried those rules it was so stressful for everybody on the team … that it made it a lot easier to make the decision to say, ‘Man, it’s already so slow and there are so few people coming in the door that it just doesn’t make sense to have anybody feel uncomfortable coming into work at this point,’” said Josh Quinn, who closed Tigertree on March 15 (the couple’s children’s boutique, Cub Shrub, closed the prior day).

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The business maintained a couple of employees in order to help with the shop’s growing e-commerce business, but immediately laid off the remainder of the 10 or so staffers employed between the two stores so that these workers could access the state’s unemployment system before it became overwhelmed with claims. “We understood the system could crash, and we felt the most responsible thing we could do for our people was to get them into that system as quickly as possible,” Quinn said. “The e-com is helping, and we’re up some magnitude of what we were before [on that side of the business], but it’s not making up for the brick and mortars being closed, and it’s impossible to maintain your payroll without a multi-million dollar line of credit like the big retailers have.”

Interviewed a couple of weeks after the closure, though, Quinn projected a sense of calm. He talked about how the time away from the daily grind has given its leadership team space to make bigger picture assessments about where the company hopes to go from here, as well as accelerating investment into an e-commerce business that, should it continue to grow, could, in time, make up for revenue lost during this indeterminate shutdown. Quinn was also cautiously buoyed by the recovery stimulus package recently passed by the federal government, which he and the company’s attorney believed could give the retailer access to a forgivable loan at two-and-a-half times payroll, allowing it to better navigate these uncertain months.

“This is a real opportunity, I think, for people to reflect on why they’re in business, because retail is grueling, and some people might spend three months reflecting on why they're in business only to be like, ‘Man, I shouldn’t have been,’” said Quinn, adding that the company recently hired its first creative director with an eye on returning more to its wholesale, private label roots. “I could never say that I was grateful this happened … but this is a good time to dig into [some of those bigger questions], and I think some people will come out of this with a more refined business than they went into it with.”

Of course, Quinn wasn’t always so collected in the face of economic meltdown, and he admitted that if the shutdown extends beyond a certain point, the business might have to revisit plans. 

“If this goes beyond a few months, this might be a different conversation,” he said. “There was definitely a slight wave of panic in the beginning, but the magnitude of this is so big that you can’t… I mean, what are you going to do? There’s no other neighborhood you could be in. There’s no other city you could be in. There’s no way out of this situation other than to say that we’re all in this together, and we’re going to find a way out of it.

“I mean, it’s hard to find an optimistic tone, because I don’t want to piss off the people on the other side of it, or downplay the pain and suffering people might be going through. And I can’t even say with certainty that we won’t find ourselves on the other side of this situation down the line. … But, in the last week, I’ve caught up with more friends and ex-employees and coworkers than I have in the last two years. … I’ve spent more time with my kids in the last three weeks than I have in the previous two or three months.”

These human connections have resonated so deeply in Quinn as of late that while watching TV recently, he was nearly moved to tears by a commercial for adult diapers that ended with a grandparent and grandchild embracing.

“It was just like, ‘Oh, my God. That’s so normal,’” Quinn said, and laughed. “As a street-level brick and mortar merchant, you hope that people maybe recognize that just shopping online and sitting in their houses all day isn’t as fulfilling as they thought it was. … For me, this [shutdown] has created a sense of community that we didn’t realize was so deep before. And I think we’re all anxious to get back to it.”