Still here, still alive: Paper please
Mamiya Rb67 - Portra 400
Surviving the pandemic as a small business takes a village. It’s hard to watch to see new businesses that opened pre-pandemic survive the long months temporarily close shop to prevent the spread of a virus. Maybe because of that, it’s rare to see them form a supportive community with their neighbors during a pandemic. Many small businesses have missed that community in the past year, and that has led some to shut their doors permanently. The lack of collaborative support from friends and neighbors can make surviving these trying times even more difficult, and we shouldn’t tackle these kinds of hurdles alone. That’s a challenge that these business owners took head on to survive the pandemic’s effects on their shop.
I would like to introduce you to Christine and Friedia, the owners of a stationary shop based in LA Chinatown called Paper Please. I discovered their shop while I was in a middle of the shoot and had plans to visit when I was in the area. Their shop was tucked in a cozy corner of the Chinatown’s central plaza, and as of recently they have moved to their new location with Thankyou_coffee around the corner on Hill St.
As I got to know them, I was fortunate to see them build a community and host pop-ups that brought folks from all over to support the various vendors that participated. Seeing them survive this pandemic by collaborating with their friends, neighbors and build a strong support system within the Chinatown community was very inspiring. It gave me hope that it’s possible to survive this crazy time, and we don’t have to do it alone.
Q1. Over the pandemic, I’ve seen you hosted bake sale events and collaborated with various vendors by allowing them to have pop-ups in front of your space. From what I’ve seen this past year, you’ve put together your own community in Chinatown. It’s not often that we see businesses get together and support each other, they usually keep to themselves and it’s “every man/woman for themselves”. How did these events start?
For starters, Paper Please opened in Chinatown in February 2020. Friedia and I rushed to open our storefront in time for the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade because our neighbors shared that it was always an epic event with a huge turnout. But unfortunately, it was during the time when news began to spread of the first COVID wave in China, which resulted in a low turnout during the festival and a continual decrease in foot traffic/tourism. We continued to do business as normal as must as we could but were forced to shut down on March 15 and re-opened in July. We had a lot of time and sales to make up for so in hopes of bringing people back into the plaza we began to plan for various events. To note, Thank You Coffee joined us as a pop-up in March and we have been together ever since. With that in mind, we wanted to pair up with people that would complement both stationery and coffee. With COVID, everyday was unpredictable but it allowed us to adapt and try new things like hosting bake sales. The bake sales allowed the opportunity for vendors to share their goods while attracting customers and the plaza. Most of the vendors who participated were found through friends of friends. For instance, Jess from Gu Grocery was friends with Jonathan.
How did you get other vendors involved in being a part of your events?
- How do you coordinate the pop-ups participating in the bake sale? During your bake sales, I’ve only seen two vendors in front of your space at a time. Why only two? Does having more pop-ups distract others from coming into your store? Limited spacing? Easier to manage?
Most of the vendors who participated were friends of friends. For instance, Jess from Gu Grocery. was friends with Jonathan from Thank You Coffee. We were also limited due to space and had to be mindful due to COVID. We wanted to create a fun but safe event space for our vendors and customers.
- How have bake sales helped Paper Please throughout the pandemic? Did it bring/create returning customers to shop on non-bake sale days? Did it help establish your presence in Chinatown since you opened?
Hosting bake sales definitely helped increase foot traffic and bring awareness to Paper Please. Our shop neighbors would mention that on bake sale days customers would come into their shops as well. A big part of our decision to place our roots in Chinatown was to become a part of the community and we are grateful that we can bring gather our friends and continue to host these events. In addition to the bake sales, having Thank You Coffee as our neighbors was a huge blessing during the early days of pandemic because we were both able to lean on each other.
Q2. I’m glad your shop is still around and you’ve been able to keep your doors open. It’s been a roller coaster seeing you open your shop prior to the lockdown, stayed opened during the pandemic up and you moved into your new space. Throughout both of your experiences, what are a few hurdles that needed to be conquered that other folks may not be aware of?
Starting any business is difficult to begin with but throwing in a pandemic was unforeseen. Friedia and I are fortunate because we had each other and when one of us was stressed or worried the other would be able to calm the other. We were able to navigate not only with each other but alongside the Thank You Coffee team as well. Both of us had just started our businesses essentially and to know we had someone going through the same motions was comforting and motivating because we were able to cheer each other on. With the unpredictable nature of the world, we were constantly on our toes and trying to figure out our next move. Luckily, we had our online shop so we were able to continue our business online when we were forced to close our brick and mortar. And with social media tools like Instagram we were able to keep the momentum going and continue to connect with our community regardless of what was going on. What kept us going was our amazing community who made purchases big or small that helped us to keep a positive attitude and endure whatever else may come. The running joke was if we could survive COVID we could do anything!
- Looking back from when you started do you both feel that there was significant growth with yourselves and the shop? What was that growth that helped you and could help others who may be in a similar position who are struggling?
In hindsight, COVID allowed us the opportunity to be creative and work with various vendors, friends, etc. Although we were all scared and running through different stages of emotion there was a strong sense of camaraderie that came about which was beautiful to experience and see. For me (Christine) personally, it put things into perspective. COVID reminded me to take it slow and gave me time to be with family and lastly, to be able regroup and roll with the punches in life and in business. I’m eternally grateful for my family, friends, Friedia, and our baby Paper Please because life is too short to enjoy alone or settle. I have high hopes for Paper Please and can’t wait for the years to come.
I (Friedia) agree with Christine! Being new and thrown into the pandemic we had to grow quickly. It made us more creative on how to reach others in order for us to start building our community. Totally grateful for Christine, Thank You Family and everyone who has come by. I don’t know if people understand how much it means to a small business owner when a happy customer walks out and keeps coming back. It’s the best feeling!