As the District reopens from phases two to three, local business owner Juanita “Busy Bee” Britton has hit the ground running, hosting her first shopping event of the year.
Displaying mud cloth fabrics, custom jewelry, handmade paintings, furniture and more, Britton presented a decorative house that offered something for everyone in her Raleigh Street home in Southeast. She has been facilitating shows for 30 years.
“I produced three major events in late February in Miami. But I’ve just closed that portion of my business down which is why we’re having this event. Many of the items on sale have come from my Miami venues,” Britton said.
“I have 20-plus stores and have experienced major financial hardship. The loan programs that the federal government has offered to small business owners have requirements which I do not meet. So, I’m struggling. My mortgage is in forbearance. But I’m making a way somehow through these tough economic times.”
Britton has championed a long-standing career as the “Busy Bee” of eccentric retail event extravaganzas, while simultaneously partnering as senior vice president and partner of Paradies-BZB, DC, LLC.
Her various airport stores which include SPANX, Native Tongue Collection, Capitol Candy and Heritage Booksellers, were all abruptly shut down with the exception of “News and Gifts,” which both Reagan National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport requested remain open.
In the meantime, Britton says she’s been supported by local organizations dedicated to support small business owners. Some of the organizations she mentioned include the Business Chamber of Commerce, National Business Alliance and the Airport Minority Advisory Council.
However, she notes that the status of future business operations remain up unclear as the District government has recently issued tighter restrictions on full-service stores and including mass gathering protocol while emergency orders continue.
Britton believes that the demand for her unique end of the year holiday bazaars has not abated.
“People are looking forward to the show. But if there is another round [of health emergency shutdowns] that takes us downward, then so be it. But I am going full steam ahead. I think we are going to get through it and become comfortable with our new normal,” she said.
On a brighter note, several recurring vendors who offer their goods at Britton’s Black Art Collection and Boutique event have experienced an uptick in sales.
Tempie Satcher, owner of Tempie Lee’s Sweet Potato Pies and the recent winner of Busboys and Poets “Ward 8 World’s Greatest Sweet Potato Pie Contest,” has seen a significant increase in her business sales amid the District shut down.
“I guess as people were stuck indoors, they found more time to call me and order pies – many coming to pick up their purchases with their masks on,” Satcher said. “We were still practicing social distancing but it didn’t stop them from ordering pies. So it did me a well of good.”
Satcher has worked with “Busy Bee” for many years, continuing to set up shop under Britton’s anticipated events, while simultaneously distributing her dessert line in all seven Busboys and Poets locations.
“I’ve learned a lot from her and honed my marketing skills,” Satcher said. “Now, I consider myself a marketing guru. I’ve watched how she engages with people and learned so much. She’s truly my shero.”
Despite the devastating blow that the health pandemic and related shutdowns have had on the retail industry, Britton continues pushing forward and says she’s determined to keep her head above water, planning for the virtual shift of her businesses.
“There’s still an open season for the eclectic, beautiful things that we have to offer and I’m bound and determined to make this work,” she said.