Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned of dozens of small business closures throughout Hudson County. Many of these stores surrounding Hoboken and Jersey City were ordered to shut their doors, while others had a more difficult decision to make—whether or not it would be worth it to weather the storm. For those who have managed to stay open given the circumstances, like The Green Room in Hoboken, social distancing has geared their sales towards contactless delivery and pickup.
To better understand what small businesses are going through, I reached out to Darek Wajda, founder and owner of The Green Room. Since we last spoke, he’s set up a second location in downtown Montclair (the city’s first CBD store) which opened in early March. Unfortunately, it’s now temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
While Wajda says that social media outreach and online sales are helping his Hoboken CBD store, his biggest concern right now is making sure it’s still safe to operate so that he can continue serving the community that relies on him. For many, the outbreak has caused stress, anxiety and an overwhelming sense of fear. These can manifest in a lack of sleep or changes in appetite, for the average person, or in the worsening of health problems for those who suffer from chronic illnesses like myself. And as we know, CBD has been shown to effectively treat ailments such as anxiety, depression, pain, inflammation and migraines, to name a few.
There’s really no telling what the future will hold, but Wajda intends to keep The Green Room in Hoboken up and running and has hopes of one day reopening his Montclair store. On the phone yesterday, I checked in with Wajda to find out how he’s coping, the ways he’s given back to the community and what it’s like being a small business owner right now.
First off, how’re you doing? How’s the store?
I’m hanging in there. It’s been challenging but fortunately, I’ve been able to adapt.
I know you recently opened up a second space in Montclair and had to close that storefront shortly after. Was the closure something that you had anticipated given recent events?
It was something I didn’t see coming. The first few days in Montclair were really good. The store was profitable, I was excited. Then when everything broke out, everyone in Montclair started closing. It was a ghost town and it was just too expensive for me to stay open.
So now you’re just operating out of your original Hoboken location. What adjustment have you had to make?
I prefer customers call ahead and I’ll get their orders ready for them and run their card over the phone. But there are still people who have tons of questions and want to come into the store. Everyone’s been safe—wearing masks, keeping a safe distance. I have Purell on the counter and lysol wipes. I’m wiping down the credit card processor, chip reader, iPad screen after people sign it, the door handles, chairs. It’s been excessive.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered?
The biggest challenge from in-store retail to now pushing everything online is keeping the e-commerce platform up and running. Since everyone is pretty much shopping online right now, these websites keep updating and crashing. It’s a lot of maintenance. Sometimes it takes my web team up to four or five hours and they’ve been updating our site every day.
Have you been able to keep in touch with customers? What’s the response been like?
My customers have been super appreciative of the store still being open. Especially those with more serious needs like Crohn’s, MS or Lupus. Those customers depend on me.
I’m in the store from 11 am to 8 pm. After 8 pm, I normally have about 10 orders to do and I’ll drive anywhere from Jersey City to Norwood, Hackensack, Montclair, West Orange. I’m all over the place. And anyone who’s more than half an hour away, I’ll just ship their order out. People have given me nice tips, bottles of wine, six-packs of beer. Customers have been really supportive.
And you’re working alone?
I’m a one-man team right now. Running the store, making deliveries. I don’t have any help. I want to say though, I didn’t lay off my employees. They’re currently home, they’re just not receiving any hours. I’m paying them a direct deposit each week, I also paid the three of their rents for their apartments for the month of April. Anything to keep them afloat—money for food, etc. Ultimately I thought it was the right thing to do.
That’s amazing. And how’s your family doing?
Everyone has been home staying safe. My mother’s a teacher so she’s been online with her students and my sister is home from college. We’ve all been keeping a safe distance from one another since I’ve been working a lot. We feel a bit distant at times but we’re pushing through it.
There’s been a lot of talk about ways to help the community during this time. You’ve recently donated masks and started selling CBD hand sanitizer. What led you to those decisions?
One of my manufacturers that’s FDA compliant out of Hong Kong reached out to me to see if I needed masks. She knew there was a shortage and since I was already ordering, I said sure, throw in a couple hundred.
I was looking out for the best interest of the people of Hoboken because I saw a lot of the community walking by with no protection. Once I felt that enough people were protected in the streets, I donated the rest to a local hospital.
Around the same time, CBD Living, who’s a partnership company I work with, reached out as well. They told me they were going to be putting a brief halt on manufacturing some of their CBD products and were going to put a lot of time and effort into creating a large supply hand sanitizer.
Because I knew there was a shortage, just like there was a shortage of masks, I said yes. The benefit of having CBD in hand sanitizer works the same way as a topical lotion. It keeps your skin from cracking and drying out like they would if you were using regular sanitizer or just washing your hands a lot.
Have you noticed the outbreak and new government regulations having any effect on the Hoboken community?
To me, it doesn’t seem like people in Hoboken are too concerned. I’m watching through my window all day people walking around outside when it’s nice out, laying on the grass tanning out by the Hudson River. I see people walk by with brown paper bags over their heads with the eyes cut out. It’s definitely been weird.
Given the day-to-day uncertainty, what’s your hope for the store going forward?
My goal is to stay open for as long as I find that it’s safe. I’m here mainly because of the people who need the products, but also because if they can’t get them here, they’re going to go elsewhere.