LOGAN SQUARE — Popular Logan Square salon Sparrow has turned to selling shoes to survive the coronavirus crisis.
The salon at 2545 N. Milwaukee Ave. was one of 80 small businesses across the country selected for Vans’ Foot the Bill small business relief program.
For the project, small businesses design and sell custom Vans and then receive the proceeds, minus production and shipping costs, according to the program’s website. Vans launched the program to keep small businesses — mostly a mix of skate shops, art galleries and music venues — afloat amid the crisis.
Sparrow was nominated for the Vans program by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, a client and friend of co-owner Bathsheba Nemerovski.
The Sparrow team jumped at the opportunity. The money from the program doesn’t have to be paid back, which was an attractive bonus to the owners, who have been scrambling for financial relief since the pandemic took hold.
“We’re so frickin’ grateful,” said co-owner Susan Flaga.
Nemerovski and Flaga said the Vans money will be critical to help them reopen after the stay at home order is lifted.
“We can make it a little bit longer but we’re definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel,” Nemerovski said. “Our [Small Business Administration] loan has not come through yet. None of the other grants have come through yet. It’s not that we’re in imminent danger, but we are in danger. So selling the shoes is really the thing we need to help us.”
The Sparrow team worked with artist Stephen Eichhorn, whose floral pattern work is prominent at the salon, on the design.
The Sparrow Vans also have the word “sensitive” on the heel, which is a play on the salon’s motto, “A salon for sensitive people.” The shoes cost $90 a pair and can be bought online.
“It’s a really cool design that connects to all the work we’re doing,” Nemerovski said.
The program has been off to a slow start so far as Sparrow has only sold about 80 pairs of shoes. The goal is to sell 500 pairs by June 1.
“It’s not easy to sell shoes when you’re a hair salon,” Nemerovski said.
But Nemerovski and Flaga said they’re hoping customers and neighbors will start to see the program as a donation to their favorite local salon rather than an indulgent shoe purchase.
“They could buy them and donate them so they support two charities at once,” Nemerovski said.
Flaga agreed, saying, “We just hope if you’re a person who benefits from having Sparrow in your life and your income isn’t completely compromised by this pandemic, then this is just a charity.”
Sparrow is a clean air salon, which means it has eliminated products and services that create toxic fumes and is focused on reducing plastic waste.
Since opening Sparrow 11 years ago, Nemerovski and Flaga said they’ve worked hard to make the salon a place where “people who are sensitive can feel safe and welcome.”
Since the shutdown, Sparrow has received support from regular clients who have bought gift cards, the owners said. But what many don’t realize is buying a gift card for future service and redeeming it later on, while generous, won’t save a small business during this time, they said. The gift card money often goes toward immediate expenses.
“The hard truth about the whole gift card sale thing for small businesses is that when those cards are redeemed, when the businesses reopen, all of the money is already spent which leaves not much money coming in after we reopen,” Flaga said.
Instead, customers can buy a pair or two of Sparrow Vans.
“It’s kinda crazy that it’s become such a huge factor in whether or not we will get through this,” Flaga said.
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