WHEN Libby Helinski closed her Nordic-inspired, Cooks Hill store Pappa Sven on March 16, she was fearful.
"We closed earlier than some, my husband had been to the US and came back just before brought in compulsory isolation and even though we [were healthy], we have customers aged over 70 at high risk," she says.
"We felt it was the right thing to do, we didn't know what was going to happen and it seemed scary. We have an online store so that was lucky but we never consider ourselves online retailers - we are a bricks and mortar store with online presence.
"The day I closed I honestly believed that we wouldn't reopen. I didn't know how a small business like mine could possible survive without having an income."
Ms Helinksi, who sells distinctly Nordic home, lifestyle and fashion items alongside fabric from her signature Marimekko brand, had already closed in January, when she spends time with her family. February trade was standard, then she shut.
As fate would have it, within days she received a big stock order.
She set about working from home, unpacking stock and posting on her social media.
"From there our online store went really well, in fact it went a bit crazy," she says.
As the weeks passed, sales of her Marimekko fabric doubled - a fact she attributes to people having more time to sew, and her own decision to make aprons and tablecloths and post pictures of them, bringing the fabric to life.
One of her online followers soon messaged to say his wife, an obstetrician, had run out of Personal Protective Equipment face masks, and was sewing them herself at home for colleagues.
"He asked me to make some so I made 30 from my own fabric stash and gave them to her," Ms Helinski said. "It was that time when you didn't know what to do if you were not a health worker or teacher and wondered if you had anything to contribute. It was lovely to be asked."
Another order came in for scrub caps, so she made 50, charging only for the fabric.
"It was great to be able to make them for the doctors, but every time I sewed one and put it up people saw more of the fabrics we had, too," she says.
Ms Helinski feels very lucky for her best April and May of trade since opening in 2014: "In saying that, they are quiet months, and we normally close for school holidays but we are certainly not feeling the really negative effect that some retailers have," she says.
She is elated to now be open and serving her customers in person but she says the pandemic deepened her connection to her online community.
"We handwrite our letters to every online order and delivered them - it was a level of service that we can't normally do when we are stuck in the shop 10-4," she said.
"The interesting thing is that people from all around Australia have contacted me saying, "I want to support your small business'. They are not thinking of me about being in Newcastle, they just want to [shop local]."
Together, not Alone is a partnership between Out of the Square, the Newcastle Herald and the Greater Bank. Its aim is to inspire some positivity in these difficult times and will feature a series of stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community.
If you have a story worth telling, contact Penelope Green: firstname.lastname@example.org
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