Small businesses balance hope, concerns as normal struggles to return in Warren

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published November 24, 2021

 Brandee Buckley, owner of Warren’s Afro Herbalist, said small businesses like hers offer a more personalized service for customers than a bigger chain.

Brandee Buckley, owner of Warren’s Afro Herbalist, said small businesses like hers offer a more personalized service for customers than a bigger chain.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

WARREN — Brandee Buckley worked at another local salon and attended beauty school in Ohio before she decided to start her own small business in Warren, at 12 Mile and Hoover roads.

Afro Herbalist opened three months ago at 12 Mile and Hoover, offering full body waxing and treatments, body oils, butters and scrubs, and positive vibes. While coming out of quarantine probably seemed like a bad time to start a business, Buckley said the effects of the pandemic in part affected the timing of her decision.  

“It was kind of forced, because people were needing personal services at a high demand,” Buckley said. “It was pretty easy with all the businesses reopening, and being short-staffed, a lack of service providers available. It was kind of easy getting in, having a grand opening, and now we can all just work.”

She added, “Self-care is very important right now, with coming out of the quarantine. I still haven’t been able to get my facial in with how busy things are, being available at the right time with your schedule, and I have a kid. I still feel like we’re catching up from last year in the quarantine, honestly.”

Like other small business owners, Buckley said building her clientele and generating lasting support through the community will be crucial to her success going forward. With “Small Business Saturday” approaching — it’s Nov. 27 this year, the day after Black Friday — and the labor, global supply chain and broader economy still far from the pre-pandemic normal, she’s looking for ways to join with other self-care and wellness providers to generate strength and synergy with pop-up events and other opportunities.

She said small businesses like hers offer a more personalized service for customers than a bigger chain. That can mean value, comfort and familiarity.  

“I’m hopeful for new clientele, exposure, just trying to make it through the holiday, I guess,” Buckley said.

At Warren’s Butcher Boy Food Products, near Frazho and Schoenherr roads, owner Barbara Francis and her husband, Donald, built a family business that has been in the community for nearly 40 years. They’d been through everything, and then, COVID-19 happened.

Now, they’re feeling the effects of supply problems, labor shortages at the restaurants they supply and higher prices for everything.

“It’s been rough for everybody,” Francis said. “No restaurant business. Everything is slow. Everything is down. … People don’t have money to spend.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s been a rough two years. Most of my restaurants (we supply) now don’t even have lunch hours. Nobody wants to work. We survive because we are a family,” she said.

As an indicator of increasing prices, she said buffalo meat that cost $4 a pound when they started selling it goes for $10 to $11 today.

“You can’t find pheasants. You can’t find quail. You can’t find anything right now,” Francis said.

Michigan’s firearms deer season kicked off Nov. 15 and with the holidays approaching, she said Butcher Boy would survive on the strength of its loyal patrons.

“Ours is all repeat customers,” Francis said. “I’m hoping it’s going to be better.”

Jeff Howard, owner of Howard’s Outdoor Power Equipment on Nile Road west of Ryan Road, has been in business for 30 years selling ATVs and four-wheelers, minibikes and dirt bikes, and gas-powered lawn equipment.

“It’s been a weird season for everyone. I mean, we’re hanging on,” Howard said. “You can’t get products. That hurts everybody.

“I don’t think we’ll have a Christmas, not like we usually do,” he said. “No one has any money. No one’s working.”

Parts for repairs and new equipment to sell at Howard’s are all hard to come by. New equipment is sold almost as soon as it arrives.

“They come in and they’re gone in one day,” Howard said. “You can’t get parts, and if you do get parts, you need 50 of them and you get 10. They don’t have it. It’s sitting overseas.”

He encouraged anyone looking for a new machine for the holidays to buy what they want when they find it at his store.

“If I have it in stock, I would buy it now,” Howard said. “We don’t do back ordering anymore.”

He said a lot of people want to shop local, even if it means spending a few bucks more, because they get to walk away with their purchase. That works as long as the products are in stock.

“If they shop at Home Depot, if everybody does, all the small businesses won’t be around, and this country will fail,” Howard said. “Without small businesses, this country is no good. You’ve got to shop local. You can’t shop online. You can, but you can’t shop online for everything.

“If you have the product right here and you’re five bucks more, they will pay it because they want it right now,” Howard said.