A for rent sign hangs in the window of Tigertree

Tigertree, a gift shop in the Short North Arts district, announced on its Instagram that the shop will be closing its physical location due to COVID-19. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Assistant Photo Editor

The words, “This was preventable,” written on mask-shaped signs covered the glass storefront of Tigertree, a gift shop in the Short North Arts District, in July and have since been replaced with a “for rent” placard. 

After nearly 14 years of service, the shop is one of many local small businesses in the Arts District that has been forced to close its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite owners’ efforts, both restaurant and retail businesses have seen their time come to an end after spending years serving the Short North community. Many small businesses cited the government-mandated shutdown and regulations related to COVID-19 for their closure since the rules were too difficult to enforce in small storefronts.  

The owners of these businesses have faced the economic and social effects of the pandemic head-on. Josh Quinn, owner of Tigertree, shared some of the challenges of social distancing in his shop on Tigertree’s Instagram, @shoptigertree.  

“The truth is, we opened Tigertree intentionally as a shop filled with a lot of product and low markups, where a lot (of) people could come and spend a lot of time discovering,” Quinn said in the post. 

Though Tigertree was unable to continue serving customers at its physical location, Quinn said he has since transitioned to an entirely online experience for his customers. 

“We will be reopening a brick and mortar store at some point but giving up the magic of this space and an almost fourteen year run in the Short North is harder than I could have ever imagined,” Quinn said on Tigertree’s Instagram page. 

The enforcement of social distancing guidelines made visiting Quinn’s business a challenge for his customers, something Dan Brewster, owner of Prologue Bookshop, which has resumed operation, said he also recognizes.

Although Brewster wanted to welcome people to his business and the neighborhood, he said that over the summer, the busier the Short North area seemed, the more skeptical he felt about Prologue Bookshop’s ability to maintain social distancing for the safety of both its employees and customers. 

“The truth is, the more thriving the area seemed, the more anxious I felt,” Brewster said.

Neither Quinn nor Brewster expect life to return to what it was like before the pandemic anytime soon. 

Quinn said in an Instagram post that he and his team decided to leave Columbus’ Arts District in part because he felt that safely reopening the shop wouldn’t be a possibility. 

“Unfortunately, given our lack of political leadership, we do not anticipate being back in a position where that feels safe for this concept any time in the near future,” Quinn said in the post. 

Caitlyn Dunn, deputy director of operations for the Short North Alliance, said in an email that of the more than 300 businesses in the Short North Arts District, 90 percent are small businesses, and 85 percent are locally owned. 

“Now, it is more important than ever to shop at small businesses,” Dunn said.

Although businesses in the Short North are being hit hard financially by the pandemic, Brewster said he is trying to look on the bright side.

“To a degree, being a business owner is being optimistic. If I were pessimistic about it, then I wouldn’t have done this in the first place,” Brewster said. 

The heart for the community is what’s keeping small businesses such as Prologue going, Brewster said. 

“The passion and the care that the businesses here have for their community is really what drives it,” Brewster said. “Rather than large corporations reaching as wide as they can, we’re prioritizing right here.”

Other businesses in the Short North that closed due to the pandemic include: 

  • Family-owned Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro closed in March after hosting events in Columbus for three years, according to Columbus Underground.
  • Locally-sourced restaurant The Table closed in May and offered the space for sale after nearly seven years in the neighborhood, according to its Instagram page.
  • Emi Pet Salon & Boutique began offering everything in its store for 40 percent off in early August and closed after almost six years in the district, according to its Facebook page. 
  • Short North Coffee House, a late-night coffee shop which offered printing services, closed this summer after serving coffee since 2016, according to Columbus Alive.
  • Madison-USA, a Black-owned clothing brand in the Short North, moved out of its space this summer. Its phone number and website have changed, and its retail space is empty.

Restaurant Townhall never opened its doors. Although the business entered the Short North in January and was scheduled to open in March, it couldn’t get off the ground due to state and federal shutdowns. In late August, the building’s landlord warned Townhall of eviction if it didn’t vacate the space by Sept. 2. The owner and the landlord are currently involved in court proceedings, according to Columbus Business First.