'I'm not shutting my business again'
By Tracey Grey, as told to Melba Newsome
Covid-19 has turned out to be the roughest thing that’s ever happened to my professional and personal life.
I became a certified lymphatic massage therapist and created a dietary supplement to help people in my community. My goal was to encourage African Americans to value self-care and the benefits of massage therapy.
I opened Massage Life Studios in 2016, a massage membership studio that brought in roughly $6,000 each month until the pandemic shutdown.
I saw what the coronavirus outbreak did in China, but I didn’t really understand the severity of it all. I believed the United States would figure out a way to combat it. That never happened.
On March 23rd, Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order requiring all personal care businesses like hair salons and massage businesses to close just two days later. I literally went to work on a Monday and had to close my business that coming Wednesday.
If I tried to defy the order and stay open, I risked being fined or losing my license. So, just like that, the massage therapy business I’d spent five years building was shut down for the foreseeable future.
No government aid
Business owners who were forced to close were supposed to receive pandemic unemployment insurance, but I was locked out of the unemployment system for months and couldn’t apply. When my claim was processed in late October, I received a total of $700.
Like most people, I’m a paycheck away from the poorhouse. With no money coming in from my business, I exhausted my savings and borrowed from friends and family to stay afloat.
I also applied for any grant or loan I could find.
I never heard back on my application for a City of Charlotte grant offered through the Foundation for the Carolinas. I was denied a grant from the county because they said it was specifically for businesses located outside the Charlotte city limits. I reached out to the City Council and, after hearing nothing for months, was turned down. They said because I had fewer than five employees, I was considered a micro business and therefore didn’t qualify.
The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Plan and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program were supposed to help small businesses like mine. Some borrowers fraudulently received loans with few questions asked, but many Black-owned were scrutinized more heavily than anybody else and denied loans. Most of us can’t just walk into a bank and get a loan because we don’t have those kinds of financial relationships.
Being constantly turned down for aid or hearing nothing back at all is extremely distressing and disheartening. To tell you the truth, I’m frustrated with our city, county, state and federal governments right now. They’ve done nothing to help me.
Survival is tenuous
Massage Life Studios stayed closed for two months. Since reopening in mid-summer, only about 55 percent of my clientele has returned; my survival remains tenuous. If 10 of my clients were to cancel their memberships, I’m done. I take a loss every time I open my doors because I’m not generating enough revenue.
With the number of Covid cases on the rise again, there’s talk of maybe going back to Phase 2 and closing down personal service businesses again. I won’t comply because that would be the end for me. I’m not shutting my business again.
To our readers: We’ve long known about Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on Black communities across America. At QCity Metro, our mission dictates that we document that reality. But even amidst a pandemic, we also find stories of hope, inspiration and perseverance. This series is dedicated to telling those stories.
Our “Portraits of Perseverance” series is funded by the Facebook Journalism Project and sponsored locally by OrthoCarolina. To share your Covid story, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “Portraits” in the subject line.