Reason

WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A BUSINESS OWNER DURING COVID-19

“SO MANY BUSINESSES have taken it upon themselves to make lemonade out of lemons, in almost the truest sense, and really turn around and care for their communities for no reason than because they have kitchens and people to cook,” says Cheesetique proprietor Jill Erber. “I know it’s something that’s debated out there. Business has no heart. Business is just about profits. And if the government didn’t give people handouts, nobody would help them. I just don’t think that’s true.”

Erber, better known to her neighbors as The Cheese Lady, is the founder of a small chain of “cheese-centric” restaurants and retail cheese and wine shops. With three locations in Northern Virginia, she had a pre-COVID peak of 110 employees. As of late May, she had two locations open with 40–50 employees mostly working retail. Alongside the usual cheese and wine for takeout, she added toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and other necessities to her inventory.

Erber is a longtime friend and fellow traveler of . At an event just days before the coronavirus brought normal life in the D.C. metro area to a screeching halt, Erber came by our offices to share some cheese and describe how the trade war being waged by the Trump administration—especially retaliatory tariffs on signature goods from Europe—was harming her business. In a phone conversation 10 weeks later, Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward checked back in with Erber to hear what it’s like to be an independent entrepreneur during a pandemic and a trade war and whether the

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