Spotlight on Downtown Portland businesses: Five Questions with Fossil Cartel

Running a small business in downtown Portland means navigating changes and high speed adaptation.

Since the beginning of March, small businesses have had the extra challenges of operating during the global COVID-19 pandemic, as well as nightly demonstrations in solidarity with Black Lives Matter since the end of May. We reached out to Susan Landa, the owner of the Fossil Cartel, a rock, gem, mineral, and jewelry store, and asked how her business has dealt with these additional changes.

Tell me a little bit about the Fossil Cartel: How did this business begin and what about rocks and geology inspired you?

“I was designing and making jewelry with beads and stones for a living in my early 20s. The more I learned about stones, the more passionate I became about them. I was fascinated by these treasures that came out of the ground. They seemed to all be infused with a special energy. I consider them gifts from Mother Earth and God. Wanting to share these gifts with the world, I decided to open a store selling them.”

Since the pandemic began earlier this year, how has the Fossil Cartel had to adapt? 

“When we closed during the stay-at-home orders, we laid off all our staff and stopped paying ourselves. We focused all our energy on our online business and put extra effort into social media and building up the inventory on our website. For June through mid-August, we made private appointments with customers and brought them through the back door since the front door was boarded up. Our wonderful landlord worked with us to give us some relief on our rent. We received an EIDL grant and just got a PPP loan so we could rehire most of our staff. Being in business for 31 years, we’ve learned how to navigate all sorts of situations! We reopened two weeks ago.”

If Fossil Cartel has had to adapt to challenges presented by the pandemic, what have you found to be successful?

“Apart from what we already listed, we have asked customers to wear masks inside, we have hand sanitizer available, and limiting the number of people in the store at one time.”

Since the end of May, Portland is one of many cities experiencing almost nightly demonstrations in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Has this impacted your business? If so, how?

“Yes. Our store is one block away from the Courthouse and Justice Center. Our next-door neighbor was looted the first night of protests, and many neighbors had windows broken, so we boarded up our windows and have left the boards up. Many of the buildings around us are also still boarded up, there’s more graffiti but also so many beautiful murals. Many of our customers are scared to come downtown, even though it is safe to do so and parking is plentiful. It’s disappointing, but more disastrous is the police brutality and systemic racism in this country against BIPOC — it has to stop!”

What are some of the best ways your customers can help support your business in this current atmosphere?

“Come shop with us either online or in our store and tell your friends and family! We’re open now 7 days/week. Find us online here, on Facebook here, and on Instagram here.”

This interview is part of a series asking downtown Portland businesses how they’ve been impacted by challenges during 2020. If you are a small business owner who would like to contribute or know a small business owner who should be spotlighted, please email us at [email protected]