“My youngest got it, and seeing him so sick, I could not imagine … if (Social Tykes) opened and unknowingly exposed another child or family and brought that home,” the Macomb Township resident and entrepreneur said.
As of March 2, Fisher was working toward opening an indoor playground for kids up to 6 years old. Social Tykes was to offer open play time for a daily or monthly fee. It also had movement classes for parents and kids and a two- to five-hour drop-in child care program. She looked at a summer debut at 1620 Michigan Ave. in The Corner development on the site of the former Tiger Stadium in Detroit’s Corktown.
The business plan was moving forward, but in late March, after filing for a building permit to outfit the space for a play area and coworking space for parents, Fisher’s project came to a halt as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a stay-at-home order as the coronavirus spread.
“Everything was at a standstill,” Fisher said.
Social Tykes hit another hurdle when Fisher got back a quote for work to build out the space and it was $50,000 over budget. More companies were called in for quotes and she went to her lenders, but she said she wasn’t able to get her funding increased.
Social Tykes had won a $60,000 matching grant through entrepreneur-funding program Motor City Match to help it open, as well as a $57,000 small-business loan through the Detroit Development Fund and a $25,000 loan from the Corktown Community Foundation. She will hang on to those funds for now as she considers her next move.
“With everything closed, it kind of put into perspective, if we would be opening or doing a build-out right now, we would be in even more debt than you could imagine, because we would have all these responsibilities, people expecting paychecks,” she said.
While full-on daycares are considered essential during the pandemic, play places are considered entertainment venues and still aren’t allowed to open, according to Fisher.
She fully internalized the threat of COVID-19 once her family members started getting symptoms, one by one, in June. Fisher said her husband and two children are fine now — everyone recovered — but the experience underlined her decision to not move forward with her pre-pandemic plans.
“Just seeing how helpless (my youngest child) was … that played a huge role, to know that I’m creating a space for children, and … you can have so little exposure and catch the virus,” she said.
She’s not sure about the future of Social Tykes. It’s easy to give up when you see others folding around you, she added. Plus her business went into debt. She declined to specify an amount, though she said it wasn’t nearly as bad as it would have been if she’d started building out the space instead of waiting.
“It’s very stressful, but I’ve found a way to not panic, but moreso try and pivot,” Fisher said. “It’s really taught me a new way to be open to change, especially as a new business owner … I think it’s easy to just throw in the towel at a time like this.”
She isn’t the only entrepreneur whose plans have been hindered.
Nationally, three-quarters of small businesses had enough cash on hand to last two months or less during the first few months of the pandemic, a July survey in the National Academy of Sciences’ journal found. And the National Federation of Independent Business’s July optimism index showed just a quarter of small and independent businesses expected business conditions to improve in the next six months, and 5 percent expecting higher sales.
Fisher said she’s applied for a couple more grants, including for up to $20,000 through Citizens Bank. But many require a business to have been open for a year and to show financial records she doesn’t have yet.
“For me, I literally was just starting,” she said.
Fisher said she considered adjusting and opening with complete daycare for essential workers, but that would have required big changes in the plan and lenders’ approval. Social Tykes is also looking at what it could offer virtually, and seeking out investors.
If COVID-19 cases clear up in 2021, Fisher said, she’d start looking for a new space — perhaps smaller, with play equipment more suited to physical distancing. The Corner, developed by Bloomfield Hills-based Larson Realty Group LLC, is not holding a space for her as of now.
Crain’s contacted Larson Realty Group principal Eric Larson for comment.