How 3 small businesses are surviving the pandemic
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It’s no surprise that many small businesses are hurting. According to the latest figures from the Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey, nearly 44% of respondents saw a moderate decline due to the pandemic. But what does that look like in practice?
Last year, Marketplace followed three small businesses through the holiday retail season. We checked back in with those business owners to see how the pandemic has shaped the way they worked. The following are transcripts, lightly edited for clarity.
Patty Delgado, CEO of Hija de tu Madre in Los Angeles
“Our planners are basically our key item every year. And this year, we’re having to order them even farther in advance than we normally would just to make sure that we have these planners on time. And I’m honestly a little bit worried. This is our first year ordering inventory through a boat. And that takes a really long time. But, you know, we’re at this point that’s like, even a little bit more secure than getting things on a plane.
“I think the health of so many industries also impacts the well-being of my business. Like everything is interconnected, and I think that things just take longer because of sourcing. So I think there really is this trickle effect, or like, everything just feels so related. So I think no business or no industry is really totally immune to this.”
Kristin Thalheimer Bingham, co-owner of Dean’s Sweets in Portland, Maine
“So business in the last week has been pretty good. We have customers walking in, we have website orders, we have phone orders. It also doesn’t feel really normal, and comparing this past week to last year, for example, we are at about 50% of normal.
“We have been considered essential because we’re a food supplier. When the pandemic hit in March, we did curbside. So we didn’t have any walk-in traffic, but our website orders just went through the roof. So I think investing in our website now is really something that will be helpful for us.
“When I’m working at our downtown Portland location, I do feel like things are coming back. So I see a lot more people walking by the store. I see a lot more people coming into the store. So things feel like they’re coming back to life a little bit right now.”
Gary Merriman, owner of the Fish Hawk in Atlanta
“We’ve gotten a lot of foot traffic. The store’s been very busy. We are limiting the number of people that can come in, and require a mask, and we have a hand-sanitizing station outside before you enter. Rods have been one of the toughest things to get. One, the demand is high, but also the supply’s very low. A lot of my manufacturers are U.S.-made rods [in] Washington state, Wisconsin. And so you can imagine, you know, they were going through, you know, a shutdown.
“You just never have seen so many people want to go fishing. Families were taking their kids. They needed something to do, and outdoors was the ticket.
“Our business was actually better than it would have been last year. So I don’t know if that’s sustainable. I just hope it levels off to a normal level and doesn’t go below that. I know that’s a wordy answer.”
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?
It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.
How are Americans spending their money these days?
Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.
What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?
Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”
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