6 months into COVID-19, some West Philadelphia stores are closing for good

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The pandemic has had a devastating effect on small businesses. One-of-a-kind shops that served their communities for generations are now closed for good.

There may be gates on the door, but Struttin' Lightly on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia is open.

Gwendolyn Hosey, 71, has been in the accessory business for 40 years but she doesn't know how much longer she has.

"I applied for other things but it seems like I don't qualify. Either my t's are not crossed my I's are not dotted," said Hosey, who owns the shop.

Swallowed in bills, she has a lot to learn on her own. Last spring, she lost her partner of 10 years because of COVID-19.

"When they passed away, I was so hopeless and helpless. And then I had COVID-19. But when I came back to work, I took off my graveyard clothes and people came to see if I was alright," she said.

On the verge of closing, Hosey still calls herself blessed. She was spared from the summer's looting because her daughter stood guard. Businesses around her weren't as fortunate.

Before the pandemic, the strip of 52nd Street between Market and Arch was filled with small businesses, a lot of them were minority-owned. Now, many are boarded up permanently and the ones still around are barely hanging on.

"Most stores are gone. They looted the entire place. There's nothing to come back to," said Ali Hossian, the owner of AZ Variety, which is on the verge of closing.

Hossain says he was spared from looting, but with fewer shops open and social distancing in effect, he's only getting a handful of customers per day. He owes five months' worth of rent.

"As I work, I pay my bills. If I don't work, I don't pay my bills," he said.

He's not alone. New data from Yelp shows nationwide, 60% of businesses that had to close down temporarily for COVID-19 will never reopen.

Hossain says he could become part of that statistic any day.

Hosey says she'll keep fighting for her neighborhood to hold on.

"I just keep hope alive and I keep going. I keep going. I just keep going and I'll keep going until I have nothing left to go with," she said.
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