Willoughby business owner beats cancer while finding way to save business during pandemic

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WILLOUGHBY, Ohio (WJW) — Keeping the lights on at It’s So You, an upscale resale boutique in Willoughby has been anything but easy for store owner Laurel Howes.

“On the absolute busiest day in the history of our business., I got the phone call that I had breast cancer,” Howews recalled. “Walked right back out finished the day, greeted the customers and we had a great day and walked back in here and fell apart.”

Her surgery scheduled for March was postponed amid fresh fear of the virus.

“Surgery got canceled then because of COVID and was considered non-essential,” she said. “Seemed pretty essential to me at the time.”

Howes decided to leave cancer at the feet of her doctors and focus her energy not just on her life but her livelihood, a business that took 10 years to build.

“It ended up being a gift from God,” said Howes. “It saved our business because what happened for the next eight weeks was I was here 12 hours a day, six days a week pulling orders, doing videos, which was the only way we could have sales.” 

Social media and online sales from Facebook live videos selling products increased from 1 percent last year to 20 percent in December. Howes said connections were made online between customers and employees she didn’t expect and helped create a strong sense of community. It also allowed others battling cancer to have a safe way to shop.

“When I first got diagnosed with cancer… Laurel called me so she can fill me in on what I needed for recovery, I needed button down shirts, I needed comfy pants and just kind of guided me through that,” said Denise Salgado, a breast cancer survivor and longtime customer.

Despite all of the possible breaking points of this year, Howes said it was not cancer that dealt the crushing blow.

“Really wasn’t the cancer… it was actually closing my business that broke my heart.”

Howes eventually had surgery in the summer and is now cancer free. She calls herself a walking miracle and thanked the people who helped her recover.

She said employees who were laid off during the shutdown came back, she even hired additional staff. A team she credits with keeping sales going strong as she recovered from surgery. 

“The store had been such a dream for me forever and my staff kept it alive and my customers kept it alive.”

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