LINCOLN SQUARE — Summer has finally arrived in Chicago, but small, independent retailers like Lincoln Square's Eclecticity have yet to recover from the hit dealt to their bottom lines by the Polar Vortex.
"We had a terrible Christmas," said Siri Soderblom, owner of Eclecticity, 4752 N. Lincoln Ave. "Usually I run red until Christmas and then I run black and you pay off everybody. This year, I didn't have it and that was terrifying."
January, February and March came and went with little relief.
"Who wants to come out and buy a birthday card" in sub-zero temperatures? she said.
Still in debt to suppliers for inventory she bought last fall, Soderblom turned to the crowd funding site Go Fund Me to send out an SOS.
"If people don't know you're in trouble, they can't help you," she said.
Should small businesses turn to crowd sourcing for help? Patty Wetli discusses the issue on DNAinfo Radio:
Though Soderblom posted a goal of $50,000, her actual needs are much less — "I put that down to keep the site active" — and she's been cheered by the response thus far, which is nearing $2,000 in donations in just two weeks.
"It's made me feel like there's people out there who really care," she said.
More importantly, the funding campaign has raised "awareness to get people to come out and shop," she said. "I'd much rather have people come in and buy things."
Soderblom and partner Bambi Bellows opened Eclecticity 15 years ago, operating initially out of a Lakeview storefront before moving to Lincoln Square.
Asked whether the quirky gift shop's concept is still relevant, Soderblom said, "It has been. I don't know, we'll find out."
More than the weather affected sales, she said, citing continued economic uncertainty.
"Right now, it feels like people shop at Nordstrom and Cartier or Wal-Mart and Target. This store is geared toward a thriving middle class, and we really don't have one," she said. "If I sold cigarettes and diapers, I'd be fine. I don't know if it's viable to sell things that make people happy. I don't sell things you need."
But the biggest threat to her livelihood is online shopping, Soderblom said.
Stores like hers will cease to exist "unless people get off their computers and come out into the world," she said.
"You can't keep neighborhoods like this and Andersonville and Southport. If you're not going to support the neighborhood, then the neighborhood will die."
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