Los Angeles Times

Tapped but tapped out

- Email questions to Amy Dickinson at askamy@ amydickins­on.com.

I have a small retail store in an affluent community. We rent our space and our staff includes family members who work for free so that we can keep the doors open. The shop is a labor of love, and a gathering place for the community.

But business is very slow and we are struggling.

The COVID years saw our complete shutdown and business at a standstill. The tourists who used to be our main guests/buyers have not returned since COVID.

We are constantly approached by local businesses and nonprofits looking for donations and sponsorshi­ps: schools seeking donations to raffles; nonprofits raising money for good causes; local theaters and newspapers asking us to buy ads (“only $275 a week”).

We have always supported them when we could, including giving gift certificat­es to our shop, but I’m overwhelme­d now. Our business account is empty and it’s all I can do not to cry when asked for donations.

They ask in phone calls and then follow up in person and via email, copying others on these emails, which makes it look like we’re an uncharitab­le business.

Some even comment that we’re in “this town” so therefore must have the money and means to donate.

I was always taught to “never complain, never explain,” and I don’t know how to tell them I’d love to donate but we simply cannot.

I’m also afraid we’re going to lose respect from community members who think we are uncharitab­le.

Worried Shop Owner

Dear Worried: My advice is to craft a simple, honest and polite written response: “As our business continues to recover after our lengthy closure during the pandemic, we find ourselves unable to donate to your very worthy cause. We hope to see you in the shop very soon.”

I hope that your fears concerning your reputation are an exaggerate­d response to your affluent surroundin­gs. You should assume that other local family-run businesses are stretched too. (Connecting in a local small-business networking associatio­n might help you to see that you aren’t alone.)

The people making these requests likely do not realize that theirs is the fifth “ask” you’ve received this week.

Dear Amy: I live with my daughter and son-in-law in my own private quarters, which I paid for them to build. My area covers about one-third of the house.

I try to give them their space and live independen­tly in my unit, which is attached by a hallway to their two-story house.

We are a loving family and I have a perfect son-in-law.

I’m retired and living on Social Security.

They are full-time successful business people.

I said I’d pay one-third of the utilities, which includes heat, air conditioni­ng and garbage pickup. My daughter thinks I should pay half.

Is it equitable to split the costs 50/50 or should we pay according to earning power?

Cool Customer

Dear Cool Customer:

It doesn’t seem equitable to split the utility costs. Nor does it seem equitable to pay for utilities based on income.

The obvious solution (to me) is for you to pay onethird of the utilities, since you occupy one-third of the space and are one-third of the occupants.

You might look into installing a door between your unit and their house, and perhaps installing a separate meter for your unit.

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