CHELSEA — Attorney General Maura Healey thumbed through jeans at Chelsea Boutique before eyeing the thigh-high boots on display on the top shelf in the corner of the store. She turned to the owner, Maria Barrientos,and asked if she’d had any trouble recently with the supply chain.
“Un poco,” Barrientos, 52, said — a little. Barrientos imports her products from Colombia, the country from which she emigrated nearly 20 years ago, she explained in Spanish. The items she sells — trendy tops, jewel-toned dresses, sparkly high heels, and ballet flats — have gotten more expensive, and the cost to ship them has doubled. The economy is slowing, so her customers aren’t buying as much as they used to. She’s relied on government assistance to keep her small business afloat.
“That’s great,” Healey said during her first stop on a quick campaign tour through Chelsea on Monday morning, meeting with Latina small business owners.
Five weeks before the election, the Democratic nominee for governor visited the city with Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
After visiting two Latina-owned businesses, Healey told reporters she empathized with the challenges facing small business owners in Massachusetts, who are still recovering from the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and may lack access to capital and financing.
“We know how integral our small businesses are to the fabric of community and to the quality of life,” Healey said. “How can we do a better job from the government perspective in supporting our small business owners because they are doing so much in terms of driving economic activity and creating quality of life and opportunity for residents across the state?”
According to a new survey by MassINC Polling Group of 3,243 Massachusetts small business owners, 80 percent said they had received some form of pandemic-related funding. Black- and Latino-owned businesses, however, were more likely to miss out on government relief, compared with white or Asian-owned businesses, the survey found.
Janet Guzman, proprietor of Janet’s Unisex Beauty Salon, was one of those small business owners who wasn’t able to obtain a loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.
Guzman, 58, a Colombian immigrant who runs the Chelsea salon with her younger sister, Esther, shared her story with Healey and Driscoll Monday morning after their visit to the boutique. She said she survived the worst of the pandemic when salons were forced to close to stop the spread of the coronavirus by borrowing more than $40,000 from another sister and a friend.
Guzman’s business is still struggling. Many of her clients in Chelsea, which was hit particularly hard during the early months of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak, haven’t returned to the salon. They’re scared, Guzman said, of catching the virus.
“It’s the first time that I’ve been in this condition,” Guzman said later in an interview with the Globe, about her need for support from others. “I never ask for any help, but now, that was a time that I couldn’t make it. I have to, because the salon will close. Where will I get the money from?”
Healey and Driscoll face the GOP nominees for governor and lieutenant governor, Geoff Diehl and Leah Allen, on Nov. 8.