Her business started as a pop-up before moving to physical location in 2018, and Sapanos’ curation of vintage clothing quickly became a go-to spot for a statement blazer, an every-day pair of denim or colorful ’70s-era blouses. With this same aesthetic in mind, her shop moved into the Lorain Avenue location late last year, hoping to evolve into selling non-vintage items such as beauty products, hand-made jewelry and accessories.
“The first week of March was actually one of my best weeks,” Sapanos says. “Like, it made me feel so good because I had been operating about six months and I was feeling really good about it.”
But on April 13, Sapanos posted a video on her business Instagram showing her family and friends helping her carry everything out of the shop while wearing masks. Her landlord had left a notice on her front door, telling her to vacate within three days, and she feared that if she didn’t leave in the given time, everything in her store would be repossessed.
“I felt horrible that my family and friends were pulled away from their Easter celebrations and that they came out during a pandemic,” Sapanos says. “I hadn't seen my mom in weeks because of the stay at home order. Simultaneously, I was feeling grateful that I have such good people in my life willing to jump in and help me out.”
Everything started to unravel on March 12. The office of Gov. Mike DeWine banned mass gatherings of 100 people or more, which included parades, festivals and fairs in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19. Retailers like Sapanos began to see the impact immediately.
“The second week of March, sales plummeted,” she says. “It was more than 80% down from the previous week. So, I panicked.”
Sapanos spared no time to start negotiations with her landlord, Alex Budin.
“I explained the situation and that I was afraid I was not going to have enough revenue to be able to cover April rent,” she says. “So that’s when we started discussing the options and where to go from there.”
In a statement to Cleveland Magazine, Budin says the two discussed a possible amendment to her lease agreement, such as three months rent-free along with a reduction of rent for June and July.
He writes, “All of these moves were intended to get her back open.”
Sapanos maintains Budin did not offer three months rent free.
For his part, Budin admits mistakes were made.
“Our community is buoyed by small business,” he writes in his statement. “I am truly sorry that this didn’t work out another way and take absolute responsibility that I should have handled things differently and in a better manner.”
For now, Sapanos’ business has transitioned completely to an online format through Rising Boutique’s website and Etsy, where she had already been posting some of her items for sale. With the many challenges that the pandemic has brought, she says one of the hardest was running a small business.
“Not because I didn't wholeheartedly love it or believe in it, but because it was a financial challenge,” she says. “I’m going to continue with selling online, and I would like to have a presence here in Cleveland in the future.”
Editor's note: This story was updated April 24.
8:00 AM EST
April 23, 2020