WANTED for all the fine mom-and-pops struggling to survive in our city: Neighborhood cheerleaders to remind us that these shops and restaurants are out there, hurting, that they could use our visits and our orders and whatever spare dollars we have to spend.
Don't take this on for the pay. There won't be any. Just the payoff of helping small businesses you like cover their bills and keep the lights on.
And no need to volunteer if you're close to Woodland Hills.
A whirlwind named Kimberly Holman-Maiden has that territory covered.
She posts bubbly live videos almost every day on Facebook from the hard-hit West Valley storefronts she spotlights each week, asking in post after post for 10 people or 15 people or 20 people to go sample the mango gelato at the Golden Rose Bakery or eat a funnel cake at the Funnel House or try on a buttery soft cotton jumpsuit at Wood 'N' Hanger or order a beet salad to go from Jinky's Cafe.
Holman-Maiden didn't exactly sign up for what's become nearly a full-time gig. She's just big-hearted and somehow started doing it — in her own inimitably charming, free-form and often hilarious way.
With her videos that don't fuss over brushed hair or makeup or dogs barking or kids interrupting, with her emoji-sprinkled posts that don't fret over spelling or grammar (whose or who's, your or you're — what's the difference?), she's become a one-woman paycheck protection program easing the pain for an ever-expanding list of neighborhood business owners barely hanging on, without any or adequate government aid and without the workers they've had to furlough or lay off, whose straitened circumstances add to the stress.
Not that Holman-Maiden, 39, didn't have her own heaping plateful of worries before she began pep-talking her fast-growing number of followers into patronizing this boutique and that restaurant and the bakery just down the street.
She and her husband, Jared Maiden, have two kids — Austin, 10, and Ivy, 8 — who are now at home with her trying to figure out virtual school. She works for a company that in ordinary times arranges trips for groups of high school students. She manages her family's 46-year-old British pub on Ventura Boulevard, where she grew up around the dartboards and the Guinness signs and the kitchen serving up shepherd's pie and bangers and mash — and is now pulling several shifts a week.
Pickwick's Pub, the family business, itself was pummeled by the COVID-19 shutdowns. How does a bar used to crowding people in for cheerful company and live music and trivia nights keep going when the crowds can't come in?
Holman-Maiden, who grew up in West Hills and seems to know just about everyone in the area, took to social media to call out for people to help by ordering food to pick up — and the community responded. People from St. Mel's Catholic School started placing large takeout orders. So did others looking to feed front-line workers — including a neighborhood boy named Jake Fitzgerald who raised $1,500 to pay for meals from Pickwick's for hospital staff.
Pickwick's was getting much-needed life support, which gave Holman-Maiden the notion that she should try to spread the magic. She needed some summer clothes, so in May she started a Facebook quarantine shopping group, asking for tips on local boutiques that maybe could use a boost. Within days, suggestions pouring in, she created what she calls the Maiden Community, which is now more than 2,500 members strong.
Sami Bennett, who owns the clothing and gift boutique Wood 'N' Hanger with her daughter, Carly Bennett, told me about the day in late May when "this sweet little thing came in and said, 'All right, so I have this idea.'"
She'd get new customers to come into the boutique, she said — and in return, Bennett would commit to donating 10% of the money they spent into a pot that the Maiden Community would use to help people and good causes in the area.
Bennett says she's gotten at least 40 new customers through Holman-Maiden, "and it spreads because there's nothing like word of mouth."
"And you know what?" she said about Holman-Maiden's gift to her, "it couldn't have come at a better time. I mean, we were closed for three and a half months. It was devastating."
The boutique opened extra hours to accommodate the new visitors, Bennett told me, "and the most wonderful women came in here."
"She's like the Pied Piper," she said of Holman-Maiden. "It's her gift. People will follow her and go to places and support."
The Maiden Community gives them plenty of ways to do that. There are the visits to the shops and the Two-dollar Tuesday donations to the community pot — which are helping to do many things, including buying gym and cooling equipment for a local firehouse. Holman-Maiden is always asking for suggestions for new places to spotlight and setting up socially distanced outdoor gatherings. (This week, moms and kids met for "mocktails" at Jinky's.)
And here's a beautiful thing about what tends to happen next for those who get swept up into Holman-Maiden's Facebook world. They make new friends and become part of a chain, helping more and more people as it goes. Businesses get more visits. The charity pot refills.
Sami Bennett told Holman-Maiden about Doan's Bakery a few doors down, which the Maiden Community highlighted soon after. "It was amazing how many people came in because of that," said Karen Doan, who with her son Eric owns the bakery — best known for her white chocolate coconut cake.
Now both the Bennetts and the Doans try to frequent the other places Holman-Maiden highlights. Sami Bennett says she tries to give to the community's charity drives — such as the one for J.J. Woofin' Paws Rescue Agency, to help heal a little dog named Roxy after she was hit by a car.
Holman-Maiden's support chain keeps on growing and strengthening, though she tells me she wants to limit the number of businesses it focuses on. She doesn't want people to visit the places she promotes one time and then move on. She wants them to keep coming back to the same places, as she does to remind them, and thus work toward their long-term survival.
It's an approach that leads me back to a column I wrote recently about Diamond Bakery on Fairfax Avenue, a 74-year-old institution recently bought by a group of its employees and now fighting to get through the pandemic slowdown.
I would never have heard about the Maiden Community if a woman named Susie Comi hadn't written to me after she read that column. Comi, a friend of Holman-Maiden's family, thought I'd like to know about Holman-Maiden because she is doing just what I'd urged readers of the bakery column to do: lend support in any way they could to the small businesses they would hate to lose.
The weekend that column came out, there were lines outside Diamond, and money poured into its fundraising page.
Comi characterizes the Maiden Community as a Valley-style version of that kind of effort — "a bunch of suburban people getting things done." She wanted me to know that Holman-Maiden is so focused on helping others that she didn't even plug Pickwick's, owned by her British-born parents, Craig and Lizz Holman of Blackpool, until her Facebook support group had been up and running for weeks.
It didn't take me long to see this myself when I went to meet Holman-Maiden at Pickwick's one night this week. After we chatted a bit, we went right next door to the Blue Water Cafe to meet Sam Khechen and Roya Khajeaian, whose Lebanese menu got her group's star treatment long before the pub.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.