The heartbreak of closing my family-owned business due to COVID-19

by Mar 31, 2020

HELP US SUPPORT OUR STAFF

Back in 2016, as a first-time mother, I was enamoured with my baby. My decade-long career in government and diplomacy went out the window the moment I laid eyes on him. I was lucky enough to take about six months to dedicate my sole focus onto my now 4-year-old son, Oden, after which I began picking up teaching and consulting. My husband, Amir, was also working from home at the time, and he and I both quickly realized that working from home was impossible with an increasingly active baby. We began to research our child care options, and none of them met our needs. We wanted affordability, flexibility, social and developmental interaction, and preparation for eventual preschool. We also wanted to spend time with our son when we didn’t need to buckle down and get sh*t done. We wanted something that didn’t exist. So we took our life savings and built it — a space with on demand coworking with child care — bookable on your touch screen mobile device. For parents just like us.

We opened the doors to Wiggle & Work in East Hollywood almost two years ago, while I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter, Selah. Since then, we have welcomed more than 1,300 families into our space for coworking with child care, helped them log more than 40,000 hours of work and play, and built a large base of active monthly members. Our community is filled with freelance artists, writers, designers, and creatives of every type. Students, nurses, teachers, lawyers, and various other professionals that want a space just like ours for themselves and their little ones. A place in which they focus on work while still near their child, and at the same time, their child is nurtured by caring professionals, experiencing group play and learning, knowing they can reconnect with mom or dad whenever needed. We have seen so many of our little ones experience their first roll, crawl, steps, and words at Wiggle & Work. We have transitioned toddlers who have never in their lives been away from mom, dad, or grandparents, into child care in a loving and secure way. With every fiber of my being, I know we created something that makes a difference in people’s lives every single day.

A year-and-a-half after our program launched, we expanded by bringing on more full-time teachers to accommodate more families, and additional services needed and appreciated by our members. We even began planning our expansion to a second Los Angeles location to help more and more families every single day.

Then, like a bolt of lightning, the novel coronavirus struck. In some ways we were prepared – we have always followed the CDC recommended cleaning protocols for our space, and so we quickly and smoothly added additional health and safety measures. Our members applauded and they begged us to stay open and so for the time being, we did.

As each day passed in the month of March, my stomach began to sink further and further. I was scared. Scared to have to close my business, scared for my clients who won’t have access to our services that they depend on as parents with careers, scared for my staff going jobless, scared that the people I love will get very sick, and scared we won’t be able to come back from this new, unimaginable hurdle. As badly as we wanted to remain open for our members and team, we knew our health protocols would not be enough to keep our community safe.

We made the decision to close on March 15th because of our social and ethical responsibility to not only our community, but the entire city of Los Angeles and beyond. Once it was the clear choice, it happened so quickly, there was no time for “see you soons”, just the knowledge that closing our doors was the right thing to do, even if it meant our business suffered unimaginable consequences. Four days later, Mayor Garcetti ordered that all non-essential businesses closed, and that all Angelenos stay-at-home.

The dream my husband and I worked tirelessly to build for our community, for ourselves, was dying right in front of me. How will we make our next month’s rent? How will we be able to cover payroll? Will my staff need to find new jobs because we cannot pay them during the shutdown?

Our world was crumbling. The home we had built for our incredible teachers, our little clients with their pudgy baby faces, and their parents with their warm smiles and tired eyes — it was all being torn out from under us. The place my daughter, now 19 months, has been daily since she was 6 weeks old, dark and closed. The pain I feel for every person that depends on us is overwhelming.

On top of my fear for our business, I began to worry for my family. My aging parents just visited for our son’s 4th birthday. Did they get exposed to COVID-19 while in LA? What if my husband, children, or myself were exposed? I have asthma, what will my children do without me? How will we continue to plan for the future of our family? The panic and fear has been all encompassing.

We have been self-isolating for nearly two weeks now. Our son asks me daily why haven’t we been to Wiggle & Work. I cry each and every time those words come out of his mouth. I do not know how we can weather this storm. How can we come back from this shut down? Two weeks we could handle, but now it looks like a month, likely more. I am watching 2 years of sweat, sleepless nights and countless hours of work and determination go down the drain.

But perseverance has struck from a place I did not expect: our members. After our closure announcement, a member called to ask me how I was doing. I was nervous, of course, but still striving to project my normally positive attitude. I told him frankly I was taking it hour-by-hour and then asked how I could help him. First he thanked me for the clear communication we had been providing to our clients. Then he said something that I was not expecting:

“I want you to know that this place has been incredible for me and my daughter, and we will not be cancelling our membership. We are in this with you.” He made me cry, not once, but twice. After that, the messages and calls came flowing in. Calls, emails, and texts all letting me know that many of our clients would not be cancelling their monthly memberships, but, instead, would continue to support Wiggle & Work through the shut down, and see us again on the other side. They made me laugh and cry and laugh and then cry some more. They wanted me to know they were here for us the way we have been for them. They are here to help uphold my career choice the same way we had been doing for them all along.

After this show of support, I truly see that we did not just build a business, but a home and community for so many of our members. They are committed, just the same as my husband and I, to ensuring this closure is not forever. This is a temporary setback, I know that now, and with the strength and support of our community, our coworking with child care service can and will reopen. It is too important to let this pandemic destroy us.

Even though the support we have received has inspired me to believe in our second chance, it is also clear that not everyone is financially capable of keeping their monthly membership. Many of the supportive calls and messages I received were also from members who, like us, have been adversely affected by COVID-19 and are unable to continue paying a membership fee while employment is scarce. What this means for us is that while we are thankfully able to continue to pay rent on our facility for the time being, we are not financially equipped to pay our child care staff.

Stuck at home with these worries in mind, in between projects to keep my preschooler and toddler occupied, naps and sleepless nights, I spend most of my time applying for government grants and loans. We don’t want our business to remain in name only; we want our team to weather this storm with us. We want to help ensure they are able to support themselves and their families through this pandemic, and we can’t do that alone. So we have decided to launch a GoFundMe campaign.

Every single dollar raised through this campaign will go directly to our seven team members, without whom, we would not be the success we are today. If you are able and feel called to support our teachers please know that any donation amount, no matter how small, will help them pay basic bills and feed their families while they are unable to work during this crisis. Each one of our staff cares deeply for the children they watch at Wiggle & Work. Help us show them the same care now, when they need it the most.

Please visit https://gofundme.com/f/wiggle-and-work-employee-fund and donate today.