Norfolk mom, entrepreneur inspired to reopen business during pandemic through play therapy with her daughter


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The coronavirus pandemic along with the economic fallout that followed forced many small business owners to close their doors.

One Norfolk entrepreneur and mother of four decided that despite her hardships, she’s bouncing back and opening her business after inspiration from her daughter.

Whitney Graham was devastated when she decided to close her clothing, accessory, and branding business in Greenbrier Mall.

She was recently inspired to reopen while playing dolls with her 6-year-old daughter, Heaven.

They now want to inspire other families through play therapy.

“She was able to express herself through play therapy,” Graham said. “From us talking and playing, I forgot all of my worries as an adult. I became a kid again.”

The mind of a kid is filled with innocent thoughts and dreams, much different than Graham’s — filled with coronavirus fears and anxieties surrounding her business.

“I shut down for approximately two months, which was devastating,” she said.

She closed her business “Doll Life” in November 2020, just one month after opening because of financial hardship.

“It’s been a mess and I’m still trying to build back up, but it’s going to be a real ride,” she said.

It’s a ride Graham is strapping in for because her hopes and dreams are bigger than coronavirus concerns.

“I want business owners to know — minority business owners, Black-owned businesses — do not give up! We’re doing this for our culture, for the people,” she said.

And the courage to never give in all came from sharing a special moment with her daughter while playing dolls.

“As we began to play with the dolls, she expressed to me how she felt about herself, how she felt about what’s going on around her,” she explained. “Our purpose is bigger than the pandemic. It’s bigger than COVID.”

That inspired Whitney and Heaven to plan play-therapy sessions in her store starting next month, with coronavirus guidelines in place.

“We’re going to reach out to girls in the Hampton Roads area, which is seven cities, and we’re going to promote this play therapy. We’re looking to collect the dolls to drop off to the girls. It will be virtual and then we will hold events in the store that are going to be 20 people for them to play.”

She said she will have more information about that on the store’s Facebook page.

She’s hoping her story will give other struggling business owners hope during this difficult time.

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