Ask Amy: Struggling business stretched by “asks”

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Dear Amy: I’m a business owner with a small retail store located in an affluent community.

We rent our space and our staff includes family members who work for free so that we can keep the doors open.

The shop is a labor of love, and it is a gathering place for community members.

That said, business is very slow and we are struggling.

The COVID years saw our complete shutdown (according to state mandates), and business at a complete standstill. The tourists who used to be our main guests/buyers have not returned since COVID.

We are constantly being approached by local businesses and nonprofits looking for donations and sponsorships.

These include schools asking for donations to raffles; museums asking for three-figure donations to their fundraisers; nonprofits raising money for good causes; local theaters and newspapers asking us to purchase ads (“for only $275 a week”), and more.

We have always supported them when we could, including giving gift certificates to our shop, but I’m overwhelmed now.

Some days I’m choosing between buying food or gas for my car so I can drive to my other job.

Our business account is empty and it’s all I can do not to cry when asked for donations.

They ask in phone calls and then follow up in person and via emails, copying others on these emails, which makes it look like we’re an uncharitable business.

Some of the askers even make a comment that we’re in “this town” so therefore must have the money and means to donate.

How do I respond to these people? I was always taught to “never complain, never explain,” and I don’t know how to tell them that I’d love to donate but we simply cannot.

Our hope is to keep our store going for a few more years as our business recovers from the pandemic, but I’m also afraid we’re going to lose respect from community members who think we are closefisted and uncharitable.

Your advice?

— Worried Shop Owner

Dear Worried: My advice is to craft a simple, honest, and polite written response: “As our business continues to recover after our lengthy closure during the pandemic, we find ourselves unable to donate to your very worthy cause. We hope to see you in the shop very soon.”

I hope that your fears concerning your reputation are an exaggerated response to your affluent surroundings. You should assume that other local family-run businesses are stretched, too. (Connecting with others in a local small-business networking association might help you to see that you aren’t alone.)

Remember that the people making these requests likely do not realize that theirs is the fifth “ask” you’ve received this week. A quick, respectful, and definitive “Sorry — we’re stretched tight, so not this year” should send them on their way.

Hang in there. You’re not alone.

Dear Amy: I live with my daughter and son-in-law in my own private quarters, which I paid for them to build.

My area covers approximately one-third of the house.

I try to give them their space and live independently in my unit, which is attached by a hallway to their two-story house.

We are a loving family and I have a perfect son-in-law.

I stated that I’d pay one-third of the utilities, which includes heat, air conditioning, and garbage pickup.

I’m retired and living on Social Security.

They are full-time successful business people.

My daughter thinks I should pay for half the utilities.

Granted, I don’t suffer and use the heat and air for my comfort.

Old people don’t like to shiver all winter or sweat all summer.

Is it equitable to split the costs 50/50 or should we pay according to our earning power?

— Cool Customer

Dear Cool Customer: No, it doesn’t seem equitable to split the costs of these utilities 50/50.

Nor does it seem equitable to pay for utilities based on your income.

The obvious solution (to me) is for you to pay one-third of the utilities, since you occupy one-third of the space and are one-third of the occupants.

You might look into installing a door between your unit and their house (for energy conservation purposes), and perhaps installing a separate meter for your unit.

Dear Amy: “Organizer with a Problem” relayed extreme frustration over how their “politically based affinity group” had devolved into dysfunction.

They need to use Robert’s Rules of Order: Make a motion, discuss, then vote. That’ll stop the minority from ruling the group.

— Been There

Dear Been There: I vote “aye!”

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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