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Redwood City small business gets second chance thanks to community support

"I'm hoping to stay as long as the city allows me to stay there," said the owner of Busy Baby Bottoms.
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Busy Baby Bottoms/Stuff on the Square dressed up for the holiday season

Nearly two years after the pandemic closed down many stores indefinitely, the holidays may bring a much-needed reprieve to small local businesses. This weekend's Small Business Saturday hopes to kick-start that effort.

Small Business Saturday, celebrated annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was first launched in 2010, at the tail end of the Great Recession. The holiday is intended to encourage patronage of local businesses after the Black Friday rush.

Angela Rogan, the owner of Busy Baby Bottoms/Stuff on the Square, a shop selling cloth diapers, toys and other gifts from one of the kiosks in Courtyard Square, is already gearing up for the weekend.

In addition to offering all her patrons tax-free purchases, she's inviting five or six vendors to sell everything from vintage jewelry to homemade jam and woven baskets under the awning outside her shop.

Rogan said she'd be directing shoppers to her neighbor and local women's clothing store, Madison Ave. Located just around the corner, Madison Ave. opened just before the pandemic hit and, according to Rogan, has struggled to survive. 

She also plans to hand out coupons for Galette, a new cafe serving gelato and crepes on Broadway.

"You have to uplift your neighbors," she said.

Saving a local legend

For Angela Rogan, this year's holiday season might have been her last. Not long ago, saying goodbye to her store seemed both impossible and necessary.

"I just wanted to walk away," she said, thinking back a few months. "I was gonna just go find a full-time job, pay it back, call it a day, and be done."

Rogan, who grew up in Redwood City, is the sole proprietor of Busy Baby Bottoms/Stuff on the Square. She opened Busy Baby Bottoms on Woodside Road some 8 years ago and built up a loyal clientele of cloth-diaper-using parents before deciding to close up shop in 2017.

But when a friend, and the owner of Stuff on the Square, passed away a year later, she merged the two businesses.

"I was totally sucked back in," she said. "How can you not be sucked back in with all of this community, the children I see on a daily basis, the happiness?"

Busy Baby Bottoms/Stuff on the Square became a local go-to for everything from dolls and new and used clothes to novelty gift items like chakra rings and succulents. Some people would come back month after month, becoming more like friends than customers. She created a "fidget area" where everything is under $6 and kept other small knick-knacks in her store because she wanted to make sure every kid could leave her shop with something. One time, an 83-year-old grandmother came in to find a doll—for herself.

"She got one of the vintage ones for $80," said Rogan. "She had been looking for years. She made me cry." 

But then, in March 2020, the pandemic hit. Busy Baby Bottoms/Stuff on the Square shut their doors indefinitely. Rogan tried having a few online sales, but she said people weren't shopping. No one wanted to spend $100 on a toy when they were busy trying to hoard food and toilet paper.

For the next year, she paid as much of her monthly rent and other expenses as possible. All the while, the end of the moratorium continued to loom.

According to Rogan, she heard rumors that the city—her landlord—was considering forgiving all the kiosks from their months of unpaid rent. But ultimately, they decided not to, and she was presented with a bill she couldn't pay.

"We're in the middle of a pandemic," she remembered thinking. "I don't know what I'm doing. I'm closed, freaking out." 

Even as businesses started to reopen in the spring and early summer of 2021, she was limited to allowing one person in her shop at a time. Many were still hesitant, particularly as delta variant cases began to surge, and the summer event series that typically brought business was canceled once again. The debt continued to grow.

This fall, she finally decided it was time to quit. She announced on social media that everything in the shop would be half off through the holidays and started saying her goodbyes to all those loyal customers.

But that wasn't quite the end.

"When I put that notice out, I don't even know the adjective to describe the overwhelming support from people, not only that I knew, but people that I didn't know," she said. "I got paragraphs and essays from people who explained to me their own situations or their failures and their successes.

"But what really got me lighting the fire under my you-know-what was people were telling me, 'My kids are going to be so disappointed. My kids spend their allowance money in there.'"

Rogan said she isn't one to ask for help and initially hated the idea of a GoFundMe. But a good friend of hers, who'd seen her crying over the thought of losing the shop, convinced her to give it a try. In a matter of days, she raised over $3,000, enough to cover her owed rent and keep her going through the winter.

"I should be stable 'til May of 2022. It makes me want to cry," she said. 

"It's my little home away from home; it's my gem in the middle of the city," she said of her shop. "I'm hoping to stay as long as the city allows me to stay there."

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Leah Worthington is the lead reporter at the Redwood City Pulse, a local news site dedicated to providing accurate and timely news to the Redwood City community. Leah can be reached at lworthington@rwcpulse.com, on Twitter, and by phone at 650-888-3794. To read more stories about Redwood City, subscribe to our daily Express newsletter on rwcpulse.com.