Martin Shapiro (photo by Laurie Shapiro)

A little over a month ago, my family lost my father, Martin Shapiro, to pneumonia.

As a public relations agency founder, I’ve thought of him often during the current pandemic. I’m inspired by what a master he was at remaking himself. His life story was one of constant transformation—particularly in his retirement years.

After a career in engineering, he became a weekly newspaper columnist and regular cable show host, founded a congregation with my late mother, officiated at weddings as a justice of the peace, served on numerous town committees, and kept up his continuing education until a few months before he died. Poring through his belongings, I’ve uncovered issues of Writer’s Digest, mixed in with a pile of Smithsonian magazines. Even with him gone, his zest for knowledge and self-improvement is palpable to me.

It’s especially inspiring now, when so many small business owners are making quick changes due to COVID-19—refreshing their services and their brands—to move forward in an unpredictable world. I admire the local companies around me that are doing so successfully, and then attracting customers by telling their stories to the world.

Take Katerina Iliades, owner and founder of the Greek International Food Market, an importer of quality Mediterranean foods in West Roxbury, MA. Over 10 years, she’s built a following of foodies from North Carolina to New York, who make her store a destination when they’re in Boston. In addition to selling premium olive oil, honey and preserves from Greece, she’s become the go-to neighborhood grocer during COVID-19—offering everything from oranges to hot dog rolls for the first time. As her story spreads, she’s had to adjust her hours to meet burgeoning demand.

Her brother Alex Iliades, owner of Farm Grill & Rotisserie in Newton, MA, is doing the same. His restaurant, founded by their father Savvas in 1996, is both a local gathering place and a standard bearer for authentic Greek cuisine. He’s launched a new curbside takeout service, inaugurated free delivery, and is selling a wide selection of the Greek International Food Market’s imported “treasures” for the first time. He’s staying connected with his extended family of customers by sharing recipes. And he’s capitalizing on every possible opportunity to communicate about these changes.

The small businesses that thrive during downturns are strong and passionate editors of their own life stories. They turn adversity into opportunity, engaging with all stakeholders along the way. With optimism and ingenuity, they’re always ready for the next big battle.

So was my father. Life was never easy for him. He grew up too poor to spend money on field trips, fought in a war, lost a newborn son, and emerged victorious over several life- threatening events. Yet his voracious appetite for learning—and his gifts for communicating and connecting–made him a pillar of his town until practically his last breath.

It is my honor to perpetuate his legacy by showcasing other driven, dynamic and passionate leaders.