It’s tough to be a small business owner right now — ask anyone — but Boutique Lounge on Mercer Island is making it work and giving back.
Shortly after the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic reached Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-home order to mitigate the spread of the contagious and potentially deadly virus. That stay-home order “flattened the curve” as intended, but it closed all businesses not deemed essential.
The Boutique Lounge (at 8451 SE 68th St. on Mercer Island) was not deemed essential, like so many other businesses. Where other business owners in the same position might shore up the reserves and stop spending, Boutique Lounge owner Kerry Donner decided instead to figure out a way to give back.
“Bottom line, my grandfather is super charitable, my dad is very charitable, and they passed those genes onto me… I’ve been given gifts throughout my life by family and my friends — whether they’re financial gifts, gifts of time or gifts of energy. We’ve all had hard times in our life and receiving a gift of any one of those is more valuable than anything I could ever earn,” Donner said. “I’m compelled by my heart, by my family legacy, by everything that I know to be true of human nature, and that’s why, I guess.”
Through a marketing company, House of Hunter, Donner came up with a plan to offer care packages. On The Boutique Lounge website, customers can create care packages for anybody or anything — a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or even their dog. Payment is accepted over the phone because some of the vendors do not allow The Boutique Lounge to sell their products online. Those care packages then are delivered or available as curbside pickup.
Donner added that before she launched her care package service, she cleared the idea with state officials to be sure she was still in compliance with the stay-home order.
While her doors are closed, 10% of any proceeds will be donated to the Boys and Girls Club on Mercer Island.
“I researched a bunch of different charities that were doing well by the people who were suffering during COVID and I settled on the Mercer Island Boys and Girls Club for a couple of reasons — they are providing free childcare to first responders… (and) It’s a local group that I’ve been personally tied to ever since I’ve had children there. They’ve been extremely good to my family and I personally donate to them every year because they’ve been so great to me,” Donner said. “My shoppers are primarily from Mercer Island, so giving back to their own community I thought would be a nice way to show my support.”
For Donner, it was important that she not capitalize on the situation.
“I could never take advantage of people in a situation of crisis. If anything I’d like to share in that crisis as well,” Donner said. “I’m also a big believer in Karma… Karma is a big deal, and it’s similar to the Golden Rule — what goes around comes around.”
Donner also noted that some business owners aren’t afforded the same luxury of donating while revenue is down. That luxury was earned through planning, she said.
“I’m not going to lose my shirt over this… I opened my brick and mortar May 6 (2019). I haven’t been open even a year, and I would have never opened a business without having enough money to run it,” Donner said. “I was actually close to breaking even, so the business was very close to supporting itself within a year. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. Usually businesses don’t make a profit in the first one to three years, so I was financially prepared to support my business anywhere from one to three years. I’m not going to lose my business. There’s a lot of people that might. And because I’m not going to lose my business, that allows me to give.”
Like other businesses still active during the pandemic, Donner said traffic is down.
“People are busy and often times even in a small community as small as Mercer Island it can take people a year to pop into a new store. In the beginning it was every once in a while someone would send an email or call… it took a couple of weeks. There’s been a slight uptick and it’ll probably continue until we open, but it’s not going to be like having my doors open by any means,” Donner said.
If there’s one silver living, Donner said, it’s that her digital experience has changed for the better.
“This situation forced me to pay more attention to my online presence,” Donner said. “My online presence is smarter and stronger, and I’ve created a campaign that I can use even after I open… I’ve pivoted my business basically.”
For more information about care packages, go online to www.miboutiquelounge.com. On social media, Donner is using the hashtag #MICarepackages.