How 3 small businesses are surviving the pandemic

Sean McHenry Aug 27, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
Patty Delgado, CEO of Hija de tu Madre, at the e-commerce company's warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Delgado)

How 3 small businesses are surviving the pandemic

Sean McHenry Aug 27, 2020
Patty Delgado, CEO of Hija de tu Madre, at the e-commerce company's warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Delgado)

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.

The storefront of Dean's Sweets in downtown Portland, ME. (Courtesy of Dean's Sweets)
The storefront of Dean’s Sweets in downtown Portland, Maine. (Courtesy of Dean’s Sweets)

“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

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

Are we going to see another wave of grocery store shortages?

Well, public health officials are warning that we could see a second wave of the virus before the end of the year. And this time retailers want to be prepared if there’s high demand for certain products. But they can’t rely totally on predictive modeling. People’s shopping habits have ebbed and flowed depending on the state of COVID-19 cases or lockdowns. So, grocers are going to have to trust their guts.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

Read More


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