As the coronavirus continues to spread in Australia, one small business owner has got ahead of the curve, and made the “agonising” decision to close her two stores for at least the next week, and maybe longer.
Maria Malakellis owns two clothing and ‘lifestyle’ stores, Kiitos Living by Design, in Torquay and Barwon Heads, Victoria.
In social media posts early this morning, the business owner announced both stores would be closed for the next week, “and possibly longer if required”, partly to help protect her elderly parents from the COVID-19 virus.
“We are sailing in unchartered waters,” Malakellis said in her posts on Facebook and Instagram.
“I need to remain healthy, so I don’t infect my beloved parents and so I can spend precious time with them and support my brother in their daily care.”
The business’ online store will remain open, she said.
Making the call to close her doors was “an agonising decision”, Malakellis tells SmartCompany.
“I was up until 3.30am,” she says.
But, the clincher was seeing the way people were behaving, as if there is nothing to worry about. Not everyone is taking the coronavirus outbreak as seriously as they should be, she says.
“People are so blasé.”
Last week, Malakellis ordered two portable sinks for the store, so people could wash their hands on their way in. But, over the weekend, as the government started enforcing stricter measures in Australia, she came to the conclusion that sinks wouldn’t be enough.
“I think people are living in La La Land,” she says,
People are treating time away from the office like a holiday, she says. She’s even had customers advise her not to close, because if the private schools shut down, there’s likely to be an influx of business.
“That’s not important to me,” she says.
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“We just need to slow life down to give the health professionals and the health system a chance to cope if many people become infected,” she explains.
“This is a new virus and we don’t have any immunity to it.”
If everyone gets infected at once, “the system will collapse, and people will die”, she says.
View this post on Instagram
Dear friends, we are sailing in uncharted waters and I have decided to close the doors to our stores for the following week, and possibly longer if required ! Our online store will remain open and I can be contacted via email or direct messages on Instagram or Facebook. I will also be posting new stock arrivals here during this time . As you all know I have elderly parents who are being very well looked after, at home, by my brother Michael. I need to remain healthy, so I don’t infect my beloved parents and so I can spend precious time with them and support my brother in their daily care. Thank you for your understanding and please stay safe and healthy, kindest regards,Maria. #healthiswealth #familyiseverything #andthistooshallpass
For Malakellis, this is about more than business.
She is a breast cancer survivor herself, her son has type-one diabetes, and both of her elderly parents have existing health issues.
“I’m paranoid,” she admits.
“We’re taking really cautionary measures to protect them wherever possible,” she adds.
“You can make money, but health is your wealth at the end of the day,”
At the same time, Malakellis is lucky enough to be in a position to shut her doors, without risking her business going under.
“We can tread water for a week or two weeks, or a month if we need to,” she explains.
Partly, this is because she’s been in business for 10 years.
“Nothing is guaranteed, but I have been running a tight ship,” she says.
She has also built up a loyal customer base. The response to the business owner’s Instagram post is telling in itself, with one customer promising to come back to the store as soon as it re-opens, and others praising her for “a brave decision” and a “very wise move”.
“It’s hard when you’re a new business. If I’d opened two years ago it would be more difficult. But having been established and having a very loyal customer base has helped me come to this decision,” Malakellis explains.
“We all just have to tread water for the next little while, and see which way the penny is going to drop.”
When it comes to the government’s response to the coronavirus, Malakellis says she hasn’t even looked at the stimulus package announced last week.
However, her feeling is that the government should be doing more to enforce isolation measures.
We’ve seen the way the virus has panned out in other countries, she says, asking, “why are we stalling?”
“I think they’re worried about the economic impact,” she says.
But she’s confident the economy will find its feet again.
“It will take time … I feel for people who will suffer in this crisis, economically as well as health-wise. But people do bounce back,” she explains.
“It’s just another little glitch, and we need to be careful.”