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Libby Hartung's business has shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, but she intends to wait out her third recession

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Libby Hartung in her store Zelda's Shoe Bar in downtown Portland. 2020 is her third recession.

Libby Hartung sells designer shoes downtown at Zelda's Shoe Bar at 717 SW Alder St., just off Broadway. On Thursday March 18, 2020, the country reeled from the economic shock of the coronavirus and warnings for people to not leave their homes. TVs showing presidential briefings and stock market mayhem played in empty hotel bars. The streets were quiet except for buses and the occasional smoker. Hartung was tidying up in her store, Zelda's Shoe Bar, even though it was closed. She shut it on Sunday March 15 when she realized having people in the small store was a health risk, but posted the rather optimistic sign on the door that it would reopen on April 1.

Business Tribune: Do you think you'll open on April the first?

Libby Hartung: Well, I'm hopeful. I was taking it. day at a time. I made a two-week commitment because that's what the recommendation was. And if it needs to be longer, I guess I'll see what my fellow retailers are doing. Pretty much everyone's closed around here.

BT: Is this the kind of business where you can make it up again when people come back in two months and buy all the shoes that they didn't buy?

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - A FedEx driver brings a box of shoes to Zelda's Shoe Bar. If Hartung hadn't been in the store they would have been returned since she is not building up inventory right now.

LH: That's the big unknown. I think there's still people out there who have resources, money, my customers. But can I ever make it up? No, I'm so behind on rent. Fortunately, I had really cut back on deliveries in January and February and had two very good months. Then March came and I received shipment. And then I had no customers. Right now, I'm not receiving any shipments because I'm not here. I will probably take what's already en route and everything else, just hold off or push it out further.

Zelda's does not sell a lot of shoes online because it's a boutique. She buys a number of shoes in different sizes. And that's her inventory until it's gone or reordered. She has no way of doing online sales, even for the women who like her product on Instagram.

This is "bridge" merchandise, priced between regular commercial shoes and high-end designer stuff. Most of her shoes come from Italy, France, Spain and some from Asia. The average pair of women's loafers here cost around $380. Some of the brands are Arche from France, Jolie, Coclico and DSegno.

BT: How long you could possibly survive without any customers at all?

LH: I'll still be here. It's not like I'm going away. I'm just barely staying alive, my landlord's been very understanding and the customers are being supportive. It's expensive, and I have no money coming in. We're all just going to be here. I'm not going to go. Everyone's going to have to be more flexible and compliant.

I went through recessions before (2001 and 2008) and to stay alive, you have to be resourceful. You have to be able to negotiate. You have to be able to not panic, but just say, 'What good does it do if you sue somebody for non-payment or you kick them out?'

We will end up doing business far differently, which I've had to do over the years.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Libby Hartung started Zelda's Shoe Bar in 1985 on Northwest 23rd Avenue. She moved it downtown 12 years ago but had to shut up shop temporarily on March 15, 2020, because of the coronavirus outbreak. With no income and rent to pay, she says everyone in her supply chain will have to be a bit more flexible so she can stay there, ready to open when the alert is over and the shoppers return.

BT: You were based on Northwest 23rd Avenue for 21 years then moved. How is it being downtown?

LH: The rent is 20% more expensive downtown than in Northwest. Sadly the locals stay away from downtown, which I think is so silly. They can't park and they don't like the homeless people. Get real, every big city has this. This is an expensive event space. But up until this happened I was hosting more like pop-up shops and wanted to use it as an event space, for local authors and clothing designers. Not like parties, but featuring women-owned businesses and local designers. I have to have more going on in here to sort of keep the traffic coming through to look at the shoes. The hotels have been hugely supportive, tourists really supported my store because they were brands that weren't in their own town, you can't them online and there's no sales tax. But now there's no tourism.


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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