Windsor

COVID-19 forces Windsor couple to close business less than one week after becoming new owners

Talk about a case of bad timing. A Windsor couple decided to get into a new business. They bought a local shoe store — one that's been around since 1947. But when COVID-19 hit, they were forced to close up shop just five days after taking ownership.

They bought a shoe store. Then, they had to close it just five days later

John and Debbie Filippakis decided to get into a new business. They bought a local shoe store — one that's been around since 1947. But when COVID-19 hit, they were forced to close up shop just five days after taking ownership. (Submitted by Debbie Filippakis)

A Windsor couple says they've been left feeling "helpless" after COVID-19 forced them to close their business — less than one week after purchasing it.

After spending 35 years in the restaurant business, Debbie Filippakis and her husband John wanted to try something new. They were getting older and needed to "lighten the physical workload."

The couple purchased a well-known shoe store called Karen's 4or Kids after the original owners retired. Then, the pandemic hit.

"When the health unit started saying to cut back hours [for businesses], we did that. We had shorter days. But then we noticed people weren't coming in," said Debbie Filippakis, adding their grand opening happened on March 16 but drew few customers.

"People were not coming in. We had one or two people coming in a day ... By that Saturday, we had closed up the doors before the health unit said to totally close." That was March 21 and they haven't been open since.

While playing the waiting game and dealing with the anxiousness of wanting to reopen, the couple is living with her parents. That's because of a house fire back in February.

Debbie Filippakis says it's 'heartbreaking' to pop by Karen's 4or Kids because it still contains items from their grand opening. (Karen's 4or Kids/Facebook)

"It's been a rough few months. Let me tell you," she said. "We have company at least, right?"

Filippakis said she and John drop by the store from time to time — not just to check on things, but to feel a sense of normalcy during the "half hour or so that we stay to do paperwork."

But those visits are "heartbreaking."

"Our balloons are still up from grand opening. We have 200 cookies sitting there that we were going to give away," she said. "You go in and you want to cry."

With more than three decades of experience in the restaurant business, Filippakis said the biggest thing she misses is the "social aspect" of running a business. She hopes the pandemic teaches people about the importance of forging relationships with shop owners.

"I think it's so important to go out into the community and support your community — which Windsor people are absolutely fabulous at doing," she said.

Owners 'keeping their fingers crossed' to stay in business

The owners' ability to keep their new shoe business afloat depends on the pressure that their suppliers put on them to pay for the products, Filippakis said.

Some companies have reached out, granting an extension of 30 or 60 days past their due date. But if sales remain at a halt beyond then, she doesn't know what options she'll have.

"What's the alternative? Who am I going to sell it to? What am I going to do with product that's there? I don't know," she said. "Even when this is over, how long is it going to take for people to be out in society?"

Hear the full interview with Karen's 4or Kids co-owner Debbie Filippakis on the CBC's Windsor Morning:

A COVID-19 case of unfortunate timing. A Windsor couple decides to get into a new business. They buy a local shoe store, one that's been around since 1947 - Karen's 4or Kids. But then the pandemic hit, and their 'new' business was forced to close. Tony speaks with owner Debbie Filippakis 8:22

Filippakis adds she probably wouldn't quality for the federal government's Canada Emergency Business Account, which provides financial relief to small business owners. To qualify, organizations must demonstrate they paid between $50,000 and $1 million in total payroll in 2019.

That would be impossible in just five days of operations — pandemic aside.

"We have absolutely no income coming in. Zero. It's going to take me a long time to go out and start spending money — because I'm not making any," she said.

Regardless, she said there are no regrets about leaving the restaurant business when she and her husband did.

"It doesn't matter what business you're in. We're all in this together."

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