ALEXANDRIA, VA – Vice President Kamala Harris pulled into Old Town Alexandria with a full motorcade of Chevy Suburbans and stopped in front of Danielle Romanetti’s very popular yarn store called fibre space™ at the corner of Prince, Commerce and West Streets.
She had come to talk shop, and to listen to average American women in the small business community.
“I’ve read about your business and what you do, which is the story of all small businesses.” Harris told Romanetti while standing in front of a wall of colorful skeins of yarn, suggesting all small businesses represent a huge economic engine driven by the same things. “It’s about a [having a] skill, a gift, a passion, and then sharing that with the community.”
No Stranger to Yarn
Harris said she was particularly excited to see Romanetti’s store because she was raised by a mom who didn’t want her just sitting in front of a tv set. And so, she said laughing, “I have crocheted more afhgans than I can tell you.” and then a pause followed by an exclamatory wave of the hand, “And our daughter is a knitter!”
Romanetti had a chance to share how her store carries specialty yarns and products unavailable anywhere else, and that one of the yarns she carries is from a local dyer and is actually named after the Vice President. “Oh really?” laughed Harris, “I’d like to see what color that is!”
A small crowd gathered outside the light blue brick flat-iron building with the sheep out front, and were politely held back by the U.S. Secret Service and the Alexandria Police Department.
“I heard the Vice President was in town so I thought I’d come outside and see,” one man told the Zebra.
“I’m glad she is here showing support to a woman-owned business,” said another unidentified bystander.”
Harris was on her feet in the store for a little over 22 minutes listening to employees describe ways they had to pivot during the last twelve months because of social restrictions
“Well you heard President Biden say today, that by the end of May, we will have enough vaccines for everyone,” Harris said, trying to reassure people that a return to some kind of normalcy was on the way eventually.
But more importantly, Harris was there to share that she understands what small businesses, and particularly women-owned small businesses, are going through.
“The American Rescue Plan has $15 billion set aside for small businesses.” She pointed out that a staggering consequence of the pandemic has been the 2.5 million women who have had to leave the workforce to stay home and care for children, and “we are afraid many of them will be permanently out of the work force until we work all this stuff out.”
Romanetti shared some positives with the Vice President, sharing that she was able to not lay off employees because her business benefited from the rounds of PPP loans, and that her building was purchased with an SBA 505 loan and thankfully, payments had been deferred through the SBA program and via her local, regional bank.
But she also said she and others were fearful that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act would run out at the end of March, and many would not know what to do then. Romanetti has a staff of five and will be challenged to keep them on salary without an extension.
Romanetti also praised the City of Alexandria, telling Harris the City invested in its federal monies into its small businesses. “We received two grants from the City.”
With one she was able to redo her website so she could offer her inventory online, and with the second grant she was able to expand her outdoor space to accommodate the curbside economy that developed last year.
But as Romanetti pointed out, consumer spending online is 2020 was only about 20% of the pre-pandemic in-store retail total, and in businesses like hers, maybe only about 5-10%.”We can’t get back what we really lost until we can be fully open again,” stressed Romanetti.
Before stepping out and saying goodbye, Harris again reiterated how much she and the President value the small business community. “It’s 50% of America’s workforce–50% own a small business or work for a small business…and [it is] so much the fabric of the community.”
MORE ABOUT FIBRE SPACE: Fibre Space Turns 10 in 2019