DURHAM’S NEWEST SMALL BUSINESSES NAVIGATE COVID-19 hen Durham was told to “stay in place” because of COVID-19, small businesses that relied on face-toface contact had to pivot and find a way forward. Many shut down temporarily and laid off employees. Online stores launched overnight. Curbside sales became a primary way of doing business. Personal connections transformed into Zoom sessions. Even after reopening, retailers had to get by with restrictions on how many customers could come through the store. Those in hospitality were especially hard-hit, said Susan Amey, president and CEO of Discover Durham. Her organization reached out to restaurants and retailers early in the crisis to get a sense of how they were affected. Although Amey was careful to say that the response to their survey was too small to be representative, the data they did receive highlighted the devastation. Of 82 businesses, 56% temporarily shut down and 7% expect to close permanently. Eighty-four percent of business owners laid off employees. Even more concerning, 95% of businesses saw revenues decline more than 20%, and 40% had more than an 80%
PHOTO BY DAVE SHAY PHOTOGRAPHY
BY B R A N D E E G R U E N E R
Crafts & Drafts NC owner Virginia George and husband Jim George in front of the do-it-yourself bar and bottle shop on Guess Road. decline. Discover Durham tried to help by setting up a webpage compiling all the restaurants open for curbside sales and delivery and sharing alternative funding and support for those in hospitality. Though federal
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funding has helped, traditional loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) have been out of reach for small business owners with little credit history or ability to keep on employees.
“A lot of the small businesses have just not been able to receive aid,” Amey said. “Even for the ones that have, the PPP is not very well-suited for restaurants and the businesses that had to close.” Nicole Thompson, president and CEO of Downtown Durham Inc. (DDI), heard similar stories among downtown business owners. She and DDI ambassadors walked much quieter streets and talked to folks about how they were doing, all while keeping the sidewalks clean and the grass mowed. Thompson has urged landlords to work with tenants who can’t pay their rent and connected struggling businesses with institutions that could provide funding. “This has really hit them,” she said. “They are missing out on Mother’s Day week, graduation week at Duke and N.C. Central University. They’re missing out on a number of the big festivals.” Thompson praised the city for being quick to put out signs for curbside pickup spots in front of downtown establishments. DDI was also working on banners for businesses to advertise that they are open. Michelle Nelson, director of marketing and communications at the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, said they are hosting weekly teleconferences to see how