Living on the East End comes at the cost of high rents, and for business owners that means both residential and commercial. During the winter, many live off of their savings from the busier summer months, with the occasional rise in business on celebratory weekends. Now, compiled with a loss of income due to closed doors, proprietors are struggling on an unprecedented level.
Brittany Torres, owner of Hamptons Handpoured, a local candle company, has altruistically created a GoFundMe page to raise money for year-round local small business owners, with a goal of $10,000. Selected recipients will each receive $500 grants, distributed in the form of gift cards, in two waves— the first consisting of single person proprietorships and a second going to COVID-19 shuttered storefronts.
Torres and her longtime significant other, Jason Lucas, who owns Sag Harbor Cycle, are both proud entrepreneurs accustomed to uncertainties — it comes with owning a business. Lucas, who was used to conducting business in person with customers, is adapting to the new normal.
They represent two ends of the local business spectrum. “I can’t fall back on the wholesale business relationships that I have built over the years because they are in the same boat as me,” she said.
Researching ways to assist her in her financial crisis, Torres combed through dozens of opportunities. She looked into grants, small business association loans, national organizations, and even turned to Facebook. Many avenues she didn’t qualify for and others stopped accepting applications altogether.
The small business community continuously checks in on one another, conversing about finding monetary assistance, or where leads only led to dead ends. She decided to help others going through the same experience. “I’m just trying to help in my own way and support a group of small businesses who have absolutely become like family to me.”
Hamptons Handpoured has lost roughly 75 percent of business, greatly due to wholesale accounts forced to close doors. The next ongoing battle is the reliance on customized orders for events — such as galas, weddings, store pop-ups — which have all been canceled or pushed back amid social distancing. To have an upper hand on her competition through online retail, Hamptons Handpoured offers free shipping, but even that eats away at profits. Despite some support through her website through a loyal customer base, mortgage and other monthly expenses continue to pile up.
Amid all the struggle, there is a guiding light of hope. Torres said there was an anonymous $5000 donation that was made to the GoFundMe page.
“There are a lot of wonderful, generous people out here and some who just happen to have the resources to contribute in a big way. But to actually pull the trigger and be so generous with people they may not even know and may never meet, is on another level of human compassion in my book. It helps this place we love so much and there is immeasurable value in giving people real hope. I am in awe of this person and thank them for their big heart,” she said.
In addition to her wholesale business, Torres’s company has long been known for creating customized candles for those in need — such as Sag Harbor Cinema, the LUNGevity Foundation, Puerto Rico disaster relief, and the Moriches Bay Project, to name a few. Right now, Torres is focused on partnering with organizations raising funds for COVID-19 relief, while attracting new customers through delivery.
Candles have a way to brighten a room and provide a sense of calm during stressful times and that’s exactly what Torres aims to do, both figuratively and literally. “I light candles. I really do. I try to make the effort to relax and keep my home cozy. But, the most important thing I do is to keep thinking of better times ahead and making the most of our current world while remaining safe and mindful of others. Helping others brings me so much happiness and honestly can be such a major goal for many who feel lost right now.”
This article first appeared in The Independent Newspaper.