Owner of Georgina fashion boutique struggles throughout COVID-19

Feb 14, 2022 | Biz/Tech

KESWICK, Ont. — Mona Steitieh, owner of Auntie M’s Closet in this small town north of Toronto, says she’s faced negative mental health effects as she helplessly watched her boutique suffer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steitieh said the first five years of a business are “make it or break it.” But she started hers in 2018, two years before an ongoing two-year pandemic.

She said she lost two of her five essential years to restrictions, lockdowns and fear.

But it wasn’t just business that’s kept Steitieh anxious. It’s her passion for community spirit that coexists with her business dream. She has spent the past two years feeding Georgina while following on-again, off-again restrictions.

But philanthropy and running a business is hard when the province is on lockdown.

“It impacts you not only financially, but mentally,” she said. “I think the government forgets what business owners go through.”

Auntie M's Closet exterior. Mona Steitieh, owner of Auntie M's Closet, says the province has promoted convenience over community throughout COVID-19.
Mona Steitieh, owner of Auntie M’s Closet, says the province has promoted convenience over community throughout COVID-19. Photo credit: Sydney Vardja

Steitieh said the government announcements have been a Catch-22.

“They’ve promoted convenience over community,” Steitieh said. “Their messages often say, ‘Remember to shop local,’ then in the same breath, ‘Don’t go out if you don’t have to.’”

Auntie M’s Closet has lost profit ​while following government restrictions to keep her community safe.

In an email to Humber News, Jennifer Anderson, executive director of the Georgina Chamber of Commerce, said shopping locally is important to Georgina.

“As a Chamber of Commerce, we continually promote the importance of shopping local at our small businesses, like Auntie M’s Closet,” she said. “Choosing to shop local means keeping money in our community, supporting our neighbours, and creating a strong and flourishing community.”

Auntie M’s Closet continues to be a light for the Georgina community despite the challenges it has faced. The boutique won the Community Spirit Award, which was part of the 2021 Georgina Business Excellence Award.

Steitieh attributes the award to her part in feeding Georgina families. Steitieh worried about the appetites of hundreds of strangers, while many others stocked their own houses with toilet paper.

Steitieh and some local teachers remembered the school breakfast programs during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Kids survive off of breakfast clubs. And just because they weren’t at school, didn’t mean they weren’t hungry, Steitieh said.

The business owner said she frequently visited Costco, pushing around a flatbed packed with food and feeling the stares of strangers unaware she was buying for 250 families.

“A lady asked why I was buying so much,” Steitieh said. “I told her it’s for the breakfast school program, and she said schools were closed. ‘Exactly,’ I said.”

Steitieh offered her store as a pick-up and drop-off point. Some days she safely delivered food door-to-door.

She helped feed families in Georgina for two years — all while keeping her business afloat.

Her charitable contributions didn’t stop there.

Auntie M’s Closet was also a drop-off location for the “Fill a Purse for a Sister” Campaign.

The campaign provides women with purses filled with necessities like personal hygiene products and tubes of chapstick.

Steitieh was Georgina’s community lead.

She helped collect and fill 341 purses.

“Every woman regardless of her situation should have a purse filled with necessities,” she said.