Local small businesses face COVID-19

RND restaurant owner Crystal Paulk delivers a family meal curbside to Dominique Gladden. | Contributed

BLYTHEWOOD – The social restrictions that come with the Covid-19 pandemic have presented a real challenge for our local small businesses in Blythewood and Fairfield County. But they’ve also presented new opportunities that are likely to impact how these businesses operate even after it’s over.

“We’re trying to be innovative and creative, and each and every day utilizing curbside dining. We’re doing a lot of takeout. We’ve now gone into delivery,” says Crystal Paulk, whose family owns The Restaurant Next Door (RND) and The Donut Guy in Winnsboro.

“Were doing like everybody else is doing: sanitizing, sanitizing, sanitizing,” she says. “And we’re staying prayerful, hopeful, and optimistic.”

At her restaurant, Paulk says, revenue is down about 60 percent since the appearance of the virus prompted government-mandated shutdowns of restaurant dining rooms and other businesses in an effort to slow its spread. But she’s working to make up lost ground by helping to meet needs that have arisen in the era of social distancing.

For example, she’s put together a meal prep menu aimed at seniors who are staying home to avoid getting sick but may not want to eat microwave meals – and families who are feeling stressed by trying to balance all the changes that have come to their lives in recent days.

The put-together meals, she says, provide the right quantity of ingredients to make the desired portion size – without a trip to the grocery store or the ahead-of-time work, like marinating meat and vegetables, already done. The concept is similar to that of online meal kits – except that it’s local, and the prices reflect that.

“It’s just one area,” she says, “that we can try and help in a little way.”

Blythewood business owners – like Carla Lomas, who owns Bloomin’ Bean Coffee Bar and Blythewood Gloriosa Florist; and Scottie Opolyn, who owns Scottie’s Café & Grill – say that for them too, staying open is about continuing to serve the community.

Blythewood Pharmacy clerk/technician Arran Montgomery, assisting customers curbside, gloved and masked. | Barbara Ball

Though the flower shop, coffee shop, and restaurant are closed to the public, Lomas says she’s still doing business by curbside pickup and delivery, handling orders through the phone and computer.

Scotties is open as well for takeout and curbside pickup. Plus, because a number of people show up to pick up orders at meal time, Scottie has tables and chairs set up outside his restaurant for spaced seating for those waiting on orders.

Fairfield’s boutiques like Over the Top and Shades of Blue have closed their stores for the most part but are stepping up their online and Facebook sales.

“We’re posting a lot more items on Facebook, 40 or so at a time,” Robbie Martin, owner of Shades of Blue in Winnsboro and Bella and Blue in Ridgeway, said. ”While we don’t have online ordering as such, we offer shipping and are constantly updating our Facebook posts. Our customers can look through our posts and call the store, pay over the phone and pick it up or we’ll be happy to bring it curbside for pickup. It’s not just about shopping,” Martin said. “It’s about therapy.

“We just want everyone to be safe right now,” she said. “And we want our customers’ shopping experiences to be safe and enjoyable.”

Phyllis Gutierrez, store manager at Over the Top Boutique in Ridgeway said the store has long had online shopping at www.overthetopridgeway.com, but is offering other online shopping experiences as well.

“We also post items on Instagram and Facebook that may or may not be on our website,” Gutierrez said. “We offer home drop offs when possible, phone sales, mail and curbside pickup.”

The store will also start offering private appointments at the store on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We are cleaning and wiping down the shop after each customer and providing hand sanitizer for customers while in the shop,” Guiterrez said.

 Everyone, it seems, is trying to muddle through the situation together – and sometimes even businesses of a similar type land on different answers to the question of what to do in the face of Covid-19: try to stay open, or close completely?

For Robert and Bobbie Pemberton, whose Oldies and Goodies antique and consignment shop is one of several new businesses in downtown Winnsboro, have made the difficult decision to close temporarily, at least through the end of March.

“It’s not the ideal situation for us as a small business because we still have rent and utilities and things like that to pay, but we feel like if we just tighten our belts and stay in, maybe we will get through this faster,” Bobbie Pemberton says.

Liz Humphries, owner of Blythewood Consignment, has kept her business open – mainly, she says, because even with 75 percent less traffic in her store, for those who have come in, the shop has met an important need.

So far, she’s observed the significance of small businesses in a small town – even ones that some policymakers might deem non-essential.

For example, there was a waitress in need of grocery money who came to pick up the check from items she’d sold through the consignment store. There was an older lady who just needed to get out of the house – and was able to come and shop after hours, when no one else was around.

There were countless people who called looking for hand tools to plant their gardens, or household items like small appliances, because they wanted to avoid shopping with the crowds at big-box stores — and the greater risk of exposure to the virus.

“It’s a surreal situation, and I’m just trying to be here,” Humphries says. “We’re wiping everything down, we’re cleaning stuff… I’ve never been in a situation like this before, so I really don’t know what to do except to stay positive, stay clean and just pray.”

If the situation wears on, she says, consignment shops like hers may become an important income source for people whose income is disrupted. Already during the pandemic, she’s had some major drop-offs of furniture that people want to sell.

But whatever is to come in the next weeks and months, she’s looking forward to the end of Covid-19 and social distancing that will eventually come – and what it will be like when everyone who’s been cooped up at home can come out and shop again.

“It’ll be good when it’s over is all I can say,” she says. “If small businesses can just hang on, it’ll be good when it’s over.”

See the growing list of Blythewood and Fairfield County small businesses with changes due to COVID-19.

The Voice will continue to update cancellations and closings at blythewoodonline.com. To submit a closing or cancellation notice, email [email protected].

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]