Their hearts and their doors remain open.
Many small businesses have been crushed by the pandemic. According to the marketing firm Womply, more than a third of small businesses in Michigan have closed since January 2020, and many are still struggling. Those that are open are so grateful that they’re making it their mission to give back to the community, especially now. Here are a few.
Douglas Cleaners first opened its doors in 1949; Amy and Andre Douville bought the high-end Birmingham dry cleaners on June 1, 2019. “Right in time for the pandemic,” Amy joked.
They had to quickly rethink how to stay afloat at a time when no one needed dry cleaning because they weren’t leaving their homes.
The Douvilles went contactless with free porch pickup and delivery, curbside service, and wash and fold laundry services.
Andre was extremely touched when a customer shared that the only reason he got dressed in the morning, despite working from home, was to support his drycleaners.
Amy said, “We’re a close-knit community; we all need to rely on each other. We have longtime customers who continue to support us in these hard times, and that has inspired us to give right back to the community.”
Together with Gleaners, they had a monthlong food drive and donations poured in.
The Douvilles also have a generous offer for anyone seeking new employment. “We’ll clean your interview outfit for free. You don’t have to be a regular customer,” Andre said. “We just want to help people get back on their feet.”
Also in the works for later this year is a suitcase drive for kids in foster homes so they won’t have to transfer their belongings in garbage bags.
Douglas Cleaners: (248) 642-6230.
Elwin & Co.
Elwin & Co., the Berkley-based kitchen and distributor of foods for 30 years, has also been impacted by the pandemic. According to chef/proprietor Elwin Greenwald, costs have gone up, but customers balk at raised prices.
“Three of my customers closed their coffee houses permanently. Distributors are taking less. With schools and casinos closed, everything trickles down, which affects sales. There’s also less foot traffic,” Greenwald said. “But we’re open, thank God. We’re doing OK, and I’m so grateful.”
In an effort to help others, Greenwald packages leftover or imperfectly shaped food items and donates them to churches, homeless shelters and schools. He also provides meals for the Berkley Police Department when shifts falls on holidays — “Even fake holidays, like the Super Bowl!”
Greenwald is also planning to cook and donate lasagnas to families who need the help because they’re ill with COVID or are overwhelmed with kids learning virtually from home.
On why he does this, Greenwald said, “This is the Jewish way; this is how I was raised. My mother and aunt used to always hand-deliver donations to local shuls. Whenever Mother’s Day rolled around and we’d ask what she wanted, my mother always said, ‘Make a donation. Give back.’ So, I do.”
His mother used to volunteer at Berkley Public Library; in tribute to her, Greenwald recently participated in a Zoom class for the same library, demonstrating how to make his famous mac and cheese.
Elwin & Co: (248) 547-8846.
The Suit Depot
The Suit Depot in Oak Park was likewise hard-hit when everything closed last March; people had no reason to buy new clothes, especially not suits.
Owner Marty Babayov said, “For more than four months we were completely closed while our usual overhead expenses continued to pile up. Industry-wide, men’s suit sales dropped by more than 80%. Now that we’ve reopened, we’re doing much better than most in this industry. Many had to shut their doors permanently.”
Last summer, to raise awareness of struggling local small businesses, Babayov manufactured and distributed thousands of reusable cloth masks with the hashtag #MichiganStrong.
The Suit Depot usually hosts an annual coat drive. This year, Babayov instead reached out to Heart to Hart Detroit (H2HD), an organization which supports the homeless, and asked what items were most needed. The answer: warm socks.
Babayov immediately called a supplier and ordered 1,000 pairs of warm, top-of-the-line diabetic socks and donated them to H2HD.
Babayov said, “This isn’t just about socks. It’s our obligation to show up for our local charities, especially in these trying times. This is about giving back, helping out wherever we can and showing up for each other.”
The Suit Depot: (248) 200-7484.
Betsy Besl has a few small businesses out of her home in Farmington Hills, including Mi She-Bei-ROCK, a play on the words “Mi Sheberach,” the prayer for healing. Since 2013, Besl has been decorating rocks with different Jewish symbols: the Star of David, chai and the chamzah hand. People started requesting hearts and inspirational quotes, and now Besl has a wide variety of meaningful stones that people can sift through before purchasing the one that speaks to them.
“Some people keep it for themselves, some give it to friends or family who are sick. It’s like a tangible prayer that you’re holding in your hand,” Besl explained.
When the pandemic hit, Besl invited anyone who had a friend or relative in the medical field to help themselves to a “healing rock” free of charge. “I wanted to send a little hope to the medical workers, let them know we’re wishing them well and hoping they stay healthy,” Besl said.
Besl, who taught at Temple Israel for 18 years before she became sick with cancer, also runs the Funky Craft Studio for kids out of her house, but the pandemic put a stop to that as well. Instead, she began offering creative activities to families, free of charge. Most fun was her Monster Shoe Contest — families were invited to decorate shoes to look like monsters and she promptly arranged the entries into an online monster shoe show gallery.
“I just wanted to keep families engaged and connected to each other, help build a sense of community at a time when people couldn’t see each other,” Besl said.
Mi She-Bei-ROCK® and The Funky Craft Studio: (248) 330-8016.
Brian Zifkin, executive vice president of Zalman’s Treasures, a jewelry store and repair shop in Berkley, said it was painful to close its doors weeks before last Passover, usually one of their busiest times. Even once they reopened, people were still nervous to come in at first.
Zifkin said, “We’ve always been very health conscious, but we’ve stepped that up, too. Now we even disinfect the entire watch battery changing station in between battery changes, which takes a lot of time.”
Zifkin always gives donations, gift cards and jewelry to “pretty much every organization that calls for donations,” including schools and synagogues. The store also offers free watch battery changes and minor jewelry repairs for all first responders, and when COVID arrived, it added teachers to that list.
“I consider teachers frontline workers, too,” Zifkin said. “The community takes care of us; we take care of them. Especially those amazing frontline workers who are literally putting their lives on the line to protect and serve and educate. It is my honor to give back to them in this small way.”
In a beautiful display of generosity coming full circle, Zifkin said that many of the first responders and teachers still insist on paying because they know how small businesses have been hurt in the pandemic, are happy to support local and want to give back themselves.
Zalman’s Treasures: (248) 547-8383.