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How local businesses are weathering the economic storm

How local businesses are weathering the economic storm

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ABINGDON, Va. — While most of the population worries about staying safe during the coronavirus outbreak, small business owners are faced with a different kind of stress.

The unforeseen economic crisis that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic has put small business owners in a cash crunch, with relief perhaps months down the road for some.

Many local small business owners are changing the way they work.

Bradley Clifton has picked up a few construction jobs just to help pay the bills after his new barber shop on Main Street in Abingdon was forced to close at the end of March.

The young entrepreneur opened his first business, Clifton’s on Main, just four weeks before the local outbreaks of the coronavirus.

“Business was getting to where I was happy with it. I was really starting to do well,” said the master barber.

“I absolutely love barbering. It doesn’t even feel like work to me.”

The full-service traditional barber shop offers men’s cuts, straight razor shaves and hot steam towel shaves.

“We’re been pushed back to opening early May. I’m ready to get back to work,” said Clifton.

“Right now, the doors are locked, but my barber pole is still standing.”

Hana Eichin opened up her dream business, Spot of Color, in mid-March right before the country went on lockdown.

The Abingdon store owner said she barely had time to market her art supplies before her business took a tailspin.

Since then, she’s worked to put all of her merchandise online in hopes that she can generate more sales.

“I’m also offering curbside and delivery services,” she said. “One customer ordered a beginner kit of acrylic paints. I think a lot of people are searching for ways to fill their time at home.

“I’ve had a few customers, but it’s so much slower than I had ever anticipated after opening. I just need to get past this hurdle and reopen full time.”

She plans to offer small art classes as soon as possible.

Since retail is allowed to operate on reduced hours, Eichin’s store is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day — just in case a customer wants to stop by during that time.

Eichin said she applied for financial help from the federal government but never heard anything from them.

“If I can be in full swing by June — that would be amazing.”

Some small business owners are getting creative in order to keep the doors of their business open.

Jenny Carlisle had no idea the direction her Crafts on Main business would take after opening the textile and fiber arts store in February.

“We were just a few sessions into a series of sewing classes when everything took a dive. I found out we couldn’t continue the classes until June because of the outbreak of the coronavirus.”

But something better came along for the new entrepreneur. Carlisle began making face masks that may offer some protection from the virus. The CDC recommends wearing face masks in public settings where social distancing may be difficult to maintain.

So far, she’s made 400 of the masks that are in big demand in town. Her masks sell for $5 to help cover the fabrics she uses.

“I opened the shop at noon the other day, and I had a line of eight to 10 customers waiting at the door to purchase the masks. It’s been like that daily. I made 88 masks over the weekend and sold out within 22 minutes,” said Carlisle.

“I can’t make them quickly enough. I’ve even had people from as far away as Johnson City request that I mail the masks to them.”

The store owner said the popularity of the masks could be credited to the materials she is using.

Instead of elastic ear loops, Carlisle is using a soft cotton spandex knit that she said is more comfortable for long wear.

“I would never want to take advantage of this terrible virus, but it’s been a way to keep my business open.

“It’s been a full-time gig for me, and it’s working.”

The coronavirus outbreak has kept one local business owner from growing his business anytime soon.

Businessman Ralph Wilson had already signed the lease on a Main Street store building in Damascus when the coronavirus caused him to change his plans.

Wilson, who also owns the Damascus Diner and Dragonfly Inn, has a goal of opening a bakery and deli business that will serve sub sandwiches, meats and cheeses and to-go foods such as potato and macaroni salads.

“I wanted to open the new business in mid-April just in time for Trail Days, but when all this happened, I had to put it on the back burner,” said Wilson.

“Now, it may be fall or next year before I can open.”

Many businesses are suffering due to cancellations and closings.

Alan Necessary, who owns and operates Sarge’s Pay Lake, a catch-and-release fishing business in Damascus, said he lost money when he had to cancel nine camping scout groups last month due to the coronavirus.

In the meantime, the business owner started a new company, Appalachian Baits, that has taken off locally and throughout the country — despite the economic downturn.

“We had three major trout tournaments planned to attend in North Carolina and Tennessee, and they were canceled,” said Necessary.

“That will hamper marketing our new bait products. That’s really going to hurt us.”

Necessary described the bait that took two years for him to develop as soft, sinking dough similar to putty that, when rolled up, is placed on fishing hooks.

“In a way, the lockdown and closings in the country may have helped get our new business off the ground,” he said.

“Lots of people are unemployed right now. They’re bored and want to get outdoors. Gov. Northam has not banned fishing in Virginia, and that is helping us.

“This business is just me and my wife. We’re not suffering a big loss because Sarge’s Pay Lake only opens on weekends. That’s why we never applied for a small business loan. We don’t have the overhead that a lot of businesses do,” said Necessary.

“We’re going to weather this storm, and we’ll stick around. When you’re a weekend and seasonal business, you have to accept losses.

“But when it’s months in a row, it does take a toll.”

The owner of a Glade Spring business has turned his circumstances around during the pandemic.

Stephen Curd, owner of Lavelle Manufacturing, hired four seamstresses to help him make 2,000 masks in the past few weeks.

“This was an opportunity for us to utilize the services I already offer in my custom clothing business and also turn it into something the community really needs,” said Curd.

“I’m trying to help create a few local jobs and at the same time keep my door open as a small business owner. Now is the time to support our community while also supporting small business.”

While production of the face masks has slowed, Curd said he will continue to make the masks as long as there is a demand.

Just recently, Curd was awarded a grant to assist him in his endeavors for the community.

As part of its commitment to supporting the local economy, Emory & Henry College, through its Appalachian Center for Civic Life, has provided a grant to Lavelle Manufacturing to support the work of producing face masks during the pandemic, according to Dr. Tal Stanley, director of the center on campus.

“The funds are derived from money the Appalachian Center has received to support community and economic development initiatives. This grant speaks to Emory & Henry’s belief that investing in local economies and developing a strong, vital quality of life in local communities is the best, most viable path to restoring economic health to Southwest Virginia,” said Stanley.

Starting a new business is a critical endeavor anytime, much less during a worldwide pandemic.

The 1901 Group, a leading provider of IT services for the public and private sectors, recently opened a new Enterprise IT Operations Center in the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator in Abingdon.

Sonu Singh, CEO of the company headquartered in Reston, Virginia, said in an email that they are “well-poised to shift seamlessly to telework status” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The newly launched Enterprise IT Operations Center, which promises to create more than 100 new jobs in Washington County, opened its doors during the onset of the outbreaks.

“We have started hiring for our Abingdon location and currently have our employees teleworking from home,” said Singh.

The company is developing creative ways to work around this difficult time for business owners.

“We have ensured that all of our employees have the necessary tools and connectivity to fully perform their duties via a secure telework status as they are the most important part of our unique service delivery model — well trained, creative, resilient, and take pride in what they do.

“The 1901 Group continues to function at 100% operational capability, capacity, and efficiency,” Singh said.

“We look forward to operating out of the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator and will do so when the restrictions are lifted and when we know it’s safe for our employees.”

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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