04/05/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
Go out for Japanese eats with Martha Stewart and what do you get? "This huge history of sake," says Charlotte Beers, who dined with her longtime friend in Manhattan March 16. "She ordered a special sake and explained why it was better." But Beers felt compelled to bring up a somewhat more pressing matter. "Martha, we've got to talk about your future," Beers said. "Please don't worry," Stewart replied. "I'm not afraid."
Facing a diminishing role in her empire—and possibly 16 months in prison—Stewart, 62, is putting on a brave face since being convicted March 5. After quitting the board of her company, she sent notes to more than 100 friends asking for letters of support to the court before her June 17 sentencing. At the same time, Stewart's camp has circled the wagons. "She's surrounded by friends," says Natalia Warburg, who has known her since grade school. "No one is leaving her alone."
Nor are her fans shying away from Martha's merchandise, at least for now (see box). Bernhardt Furniture, makers of her three lines of furniture, reports a 10-15 percent spike in sales since the verdict, while business at Kmart's quarterly white sale of Stewart products "has been solid to terrific," says Martha Stewart Living Omni-media CEO Sharon Patrick. All the support has been "humbling," Stewart told Warburg, who says her friend isn't always as tough as she seems. "I could hear her choking back tears on the phone," says Warburg. "She's at the worst time of her life."