Adopting to COVID-19’s social distancing for businesses has been a rather haphazard experience. Some switched to Zoom, Slack, and online platforms. Others have pivoted to manufacturing needed goods. Restaurants closed, moved to take out and delivery, or even became overnight grocery stores. But those in the aesthetic sector — hair salons, nail salons, and tattoo parlours — closure was and still seems to be the only option. Unfortunately many of these business don’t quality for government loans because of their operating structure. For DFA Tattoos, a beloved downtown tattoo parlour, the COVID-19 closure threatened the business. Co-owner Melissa Valiquette talked about how a GoFundMe campaign is helping them survive through this crisis.
DFA responded quickly to the COVID-19 situation. Valiquette explains that the parlour closed before the government mandated “out of respect for the clients’ health and safety.”
Like many businesses, they waited around for good news, i.e. a much needed business loan, because rent was coming due. “We have savings, of course,” she says, “But it’s hard to prepare to shut down so quickly and remain closed for so long. The rainy day fund doesn’t cover six months of not working.”
This sudden stop is a major change. “We’re a pretty busy shop,” says Valiquette. The shop has 10 full-time workers, including Valiquette. Vaiquette herself is booked up to a year in advance. “We’re all normally pretty busy,” she affirms. “I’m proud to say we have a talented staff.” Customers come back again and again getting new tattoos or working on big projects. Some bring friends. “Some people are loyal to the shop and just like the vibe,” she says. “Some people want to get a tattoo from each of us.”
She further explains that all the employees get along really well and that the client is front and centre of the shop. “People like our work ethic, our camaraderie, our attitude with each other and our clients. At our shop, everyone puts all of their effort into doing their best work, even if it’s something they’re not completely stoked about. We do our best no matter what. Also, if a client asks for something that someone else would like doing, I have no problem referring them. We want the customer to get the best work they can.”
Unfortunately, that good news loan from the government never came. DFA Tattoos, like many other aesthetic-based industries has an almost cooperative style business model. Employees are independent workers who “rent” space by either paying a chair fee or a portion of their earnings back to the business. And although DFA has three co-owners and has been thriving as evidenced by three moves to upgraded spaces, all money goes back into the business. The co-owners don’t draw a salary. In consequence, DFA doesn’t qualify for any of the government loans available.
Further, working on human beings, even if what is being done is 100% custom art done with passion and care, can’t be done from a distance of two meters away. Valiquette is all too aware that tattoo shops will probably be among the last to re-open when social distancing begins to be relaxed.
The first break for DFA came from their landlord, who deferred rent. In other words, they can pay it later. But that didn’t address all the other bills the shop faced, Hydro, insurance, an alarm system, and the like. ” Something else had to be done. “This is our livelihood,” says Valiquette. “This keeps us up at night, worrying.”
To pay for the rest, Valiquette and her co-owners Sean Arsenian and Angus Byers, turned to crowdfunding. They launched a GoFundMe campaign on April 21 to try and raise money to cover six months of the minimum of bills (not including the rent).
They met their target in less than a day. “We were blown away,” says Valiquette. Donations came in from over 250 people in the first 8 hours. Some were super donors, others gave what they could. “Everyone did it because they wanted to. It was nice to see familiar names on that list.”
Not only were Valiquette and her co-owners moved by the financial support given, but also by what people had to say. “People told us about how the experience at DFA changed them. They come to our shop to cheer up if they’re having a dark time in their lives.”
It’s easy to see why people are eager to support DFA when Valiquette details some of the things DFA did when the pandemic broke. Co-owner Byers offered his protective personal equipment to those working with the homeless. Valiquette gave her supplies to a nursing home. “We love being a part of the community and they love being part of our community,” she says.
While this round of crowdsourced support has worked out for DFA, Valiquette says that they are keeping the GoFundMe active. “We got enough money not to have to worry about losing the shop. That was all we could ever hope for. If anybody feels like donating, I’m not going to say no. That’s less debt that we will have to worry about when we re-open,” she says, referencing that deferred rent.
She further adds, “We’ll never take more than what we need. We will put any excess back into the community, shelters, hospitals that need donations. I have to do my duty to my shop and my employees, but we’re not doing this to be greedy and if we can, we’ll help other people.”
If you would like to support DFA Tattoo’s GoFundMe, please click HERE.