In Observance of the Coronaversary: A year in the life of Chicago Teacher Store

Belinda wears her passion for education on her sleeve – she was a classroom teacher in the Chicago public-school system before she opened her store. Her knowledge of what kids need to learn and grow has been a driving force in the success of her business.

Before COVID, Belinda Carucci’s 24-year-old Chicago shop was busy and thriving, thanks, in part, to her frequent and folksy posts on Facebook. Her large and loyal following of teachers and parents often tuned in for product recommendations and fun encouragement, and then followed up with visits to the store’s Bucktown location. But when the pandemic hit and wore on into the spring and summer, Facebook become a Chicago Teacher Store diary of sorts, in which Belinda honestly presented the disappointing stop-and-go flow of the crisis and the ways it wreaked havoc on her business. Here are just some of the posts she wrote. As small business owners yourselves, you’ll be able to relate to her desperation and her gratitude and hope that things will improve this year.

March 4, 2020
Don’t panic, just be smart! And maybe post this learning chart from Trend Enterprises as a quick reminder to take extra care when washing your hands. Purchase it this week and we’ll laminate it – in case someone sneezes on it!

March 13, 2020
As classes and schools consider closing down for a week or two, remember Chicago Teacher has plenty of resources to keep kids busy and on track. We are diligent about wiping down our counters and communal space every 30 to 45 minutes. We plan on staying open as long as we can.

March 19, 2020
Temporary store hours today are 1 to 4 p.m. Private shopping is available 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 4 to 5 p.m.

March 22, 2020
We will offer private shopping only starting Monday to follow the governor’s order to close our doors. Consider these options.
1. Call Chicago Teacher or email us to set up a time to shop.
2. Call us/email us to request workbooks and learning material to pick up.
3. Link to our Facebook Shop or Instagram Bio to find our favorite workbooks and learning activities. Order and have them shipped to your house.

Staff will be in the store tomorrow for private shopping and to man the phone. We want to thank those who chose to shop in our store the last week. Be safe. Be healthy.

March 23, 2020
It was awesome to get our first Instagram orders today! Let’s keep the learning going! Full speed ahead!

March 30, 2020
It is possible that students will not go back to school at all this year. That is terrifying. Sacrifices are being made in every aspect of our lives right now; educating our students may be one of them, but it doesn’t have to be. Make sure your kids are not just filling time but making progress. We can discuss what your kids are missing, and you can search our web store for material that is in the curriculum, rigorous, and meets standards. DO NOT loose educational ground!

April 2, 2020
We get a lot of donation requests in the spring – so many that we can’t fulfill them all. But if you have seen our crafts baskets, gift certificates, or puzzle packs at an event – and you are still getting paid – support us! Support your salon, your kids’ guitar teacher, and your child’s daycare. In 30 days, the small business landscape will be different. Your favorite places may not be there. We feel lucky that COVID did not hit in August. But we still worry, and three orders a day will not get us to August.

April 15, 2020
Experts say 25 percent of all small businesses will not survive COVID 19. There seems to be more media exposure and financial help available for bars and restaurants, but what about the small independent shops that have worked for years to build a business, have paid their payroll taxes, their sales tax, their corporate taxes, and have followed all the rules and ordinances the city expects them to?

Chicago Teacher has applied for SBA assistance offered from the federal, state, and city government. Now we wait. No government agency has come forward to help us yet. We are doing it all on our own. We are fortunate that we have planned well and have the funds to wait – for now. But this is not ending anytime soon.

THANK YOU to those who reached out to us. A $50 sale paid our gas bill. A $100 sale paid our electric bill, and a $200 sale this week paid our Comcast bill. Every dollar means that something is being taken care of here.

April 17, 2020
It’s been a very difficult day, week, month for our small shop. We found out today from the bank we have done business with for 15 years that there is no money left in the Payroll Protection Program. Also, two private shoppers were a no-show today. Thankfully, our last customer – who has shopped here for years – left more-than-a-little-extra money on the counter when we weren’t looking. It made us feel like someone was in our corner. We’ll try again tomorrow because that’s what small businesses do.

May 16
It’s a gorgeous day to #shopsmall! We need you now more than ever! Your favorite taco spot, boutique, hair salon, and countless other Chicago favs may not be there when this is over!

June 5, 2020
Yesterday was technically our first OPEN day in 11 weeks. Lots of neighborhood moms stopped by to support us and shop for crafts, puzzles and fun stuff to keep kids busy. Thank you! We also want to thank the customers who scheduled private shopping sessions or placed online orders in the past few months. We have a stack of people’s names who helped pay our bills and kept our spirits up.

June 30, 2020
Bad news: We only had one customer today. Good news: We put together an amazing bulletin board!

July 12, 2020
Shop small, you say? It’s a fight we will never win, especially since one of our favorite suppliers of classroom decor has started to sell to Target. They don’t understand what small teacher stores across the country have been going through, and they’ve forgotten how much business we have given them in the past three decades. It is devastating to watch our industry disappears as small mom-and-pop shops give up their fight. Chicago Teacher cannot compete with Target, but we appreciate, engage and enjoy our customers more. And we will find great product from other companies to include in our store.

June 16, 2020
Studies continue to remind parents that work needs to be done over the summer to keep little brains sharp and running. We have more than summer loss to consider – students missed a lot of learning this spring. As exhausted as teachers and parents may be from e-learning, there is more to be done. Consider devoting 30, 60, or 90 minutes each day to reviewing core concepts and to strengthen what is right now percolating in your child’s brain.

July 25
We were featured in a Chicago Tribune article! We are honored that they reached out to our little shop during the back-to-school season. Unfortunately, we are not as busy as we hoped to be. This is a difficult and uncertain time for teachers, but we need your support more than ever.

August 9
We haven’t been open on Sunday since pre-COVID, but here we are, 11 to 3. Hope to see ya!

September 14
Now that BTS is in the rearview mirror, we want to thank our customers who came in looking to create home classrooms for themselves and for their kids. It was a different kind of BTS – teachers did not need us like they usually do. We are very grateful for the new customers and friends we made this year, but we need our old ones, too. If you missed your trip to the teacher store this BTS, consider stopping in.

October 22, 2020
A small explanation of our quirky hours is in order. After years of running long distances and 24 years of standing at Chicago Teacher, my hip has given out! And with COVID, we are short staffed. Please check hours on our social media platforms or call ahead.

November 10, 2020
For small businesses, the walls are falling in. We don’t cry or complain anymore – it is what it is. We just know that winter will be our final chapter. If you can support Chicago Teacher and your favorite shop or neighborhood joint in the coming months, you might have an impact. But if you don’t, they won’t be waiting for you in 2021.

February 1, 2021
A shout out to The Barstool Fund for helping us through! In the past 10 months, we applied for multiple grants, reached out to congressmen, our governor, and our mayor and did not even receive an acknowledgement of our situation as a small business, much less any relief.

Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool Sports, and his amazing grassroots organization has helped hundreds of small businesses, including Chicago Teacher, in as close to a Hail Mary as you can imagine. With his help, we can pay employees, cover the outrageous Illinois payroll taxes, and meet rent.

We are also grateful to our landlord, who was kind enough to amend our current lease so that we can survive past June 2021. In 24 years, we have never missed a single rent payment.

If you know Chicago Teacher, you know our staff is incredibly close. Hannah, Ann, Kristin, Ton, and Peter are all amazing. They have worked and covered shifts and afforded me the small luxury of Saturdays off with my family.

February 27, 2021
Back to school, kinda. For some kids, this week will mark the first time they have been in a classroom since March 2020. Wonder what’s going on in their little minds? Are they nervous? Excited? Determined? Set the stage for a positive experience. Create a fresh, warm, and safe space that welcomes them and makes them excited with their choice to return. Things will certainly be different. Make your classroom a place everyone wants to be – including you!

March 1, 2021
If you shopped local at Chicago Teacher this weekend – THANK YOU. We need our teachers back shopping in-store as they head back into their classrooms this month. We have lots of cool products to light up your room and laminating is still available while you shop! Grab your mask and get in here!

What issues are owners of independent teacher stores facing right now? Use Educational Dealer as a forum for sharing victories and disappointments by sending your comments to Subject Line: EDforum

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