PRINCETON — A global pandemic has forced small businesses to adapt as shutdowns keep customers and workers home, and while many have closed their doors, others are hanging on and even finding new ways to keep going while the struggle to vanquish COVID-19 continues.
Restaurants depending on customers dining in have been hard hit. Some have turned to delivering meals and others have modified their hours or have offered outdoor dining. In Princeton, Sisters Coffeehouse has managed to stay in business, but Gwen Ramey, one of the owners, said it has been difficult.
“We’ve been hanging in there, but I tell you, it’s been tough,” she said. “It’s truly been tough. We’re open three days a week, and you know, business, it’s kind of been up and down. People I think are just kind of laying low. They don’t really want to get out and be around folks and this and that.”
“We’re hanging on by a thread,” Ramey added. “I’m hoping it will get better in the future, but we’re hanging in there.”
COVID-19 vaccines recently started arriving in Mercer County and the surrounding area, and there are hopes that vaccinations will help bring the numbers of COVID-19 cases down.
“I hope so,” Ramey said. “I don’t know if it will or not, to be honest with you. I think we’ve still got probably a tough month ahead of us; I think maybe January, and February. Maybe in spring things will be lifted and things will kind of start to build back up, I hope. It’s kind of put a whammy on people’s lives. It’s been difficult, that’s for sure. We’re just going to ride it out the best that we can.”
Other businesses have modified their hours, too, to keep their doors open while safeguarding employees and customers. In one example, Personal Touch Pets near Princeton served customers by letting them pick up purchases at the front door. Eventually, the store started opening on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“We were just doing pickups at first, but finally it just got the point where we said just come on in,” Scott Patton, one of the store’s owners, recalled. “Ad then it started getting better, but then it started to get worse again.”
The pet shop’s traffic has “stayed steady,” and large numbers of people don’t come inside. Customers are required to wear masks, Patton said.
“I’m real strict about it, too,” he added.
Customers gradually learned that the store was open two days a week and adjusted their schedules. Patton said once the pandemic begins to subside, the store will go back to being open five days a week.
Some businesses have closed their doors, but some owners are closing not because of losses caused by the pandemic, but because they’ve decided that it’s time to retire.
In Bluefield, Va., Leslie Ann’s Boutique is closing after being in the downtown for about 25 years, but it’s not because of COVID19, said Darlene Bowers, who owns the store with her husband, David.
“I’ve been in that location 25 years, and I’ve been self employed for 35,” Darlene Bowers said. “I’m retiring.”
The departure of Leslie Ann’s will not create a vacant downtown storefront. A new clothing business will be moving in to take its place.
“They’re not taking over the store. They’re taking over this space,” Darlene Bowers said. “There won’t be an empty building. It will be a store like this one. They’ll come in and totally remodel, new name, and it will be a really nice store.”
Despite the pandemic, Darlene Bowers said her store has not been struggling because she turned to doing more internet sales.
“I ship everywhere and people who grew up here have been very supportive and watching my Facebook lives, and ordering from my Facebook lives,” she said. “COVID really got me jump started. I really worked hard. I didn’t sit back and wait for something to happen.”
Nancy and Tom Grant of Bluefield spoke about the new clothing store, Nancy’s Downtown Boutique. Tom Grant, whose family founded Grants Supermarket, said they were planning to start with a soft opening in March after remodeling the store.
“We’re going to have different lines. We’re going to the market in February to order for spring and fall,” Tom Grant said.
Nancy Grant, a former manager of a Fashion Bug store that was located near Walmart in Bluefield, Va., has worked for Darlene Bowers for eight years. She said that they had thought of putting the new store in a different location, possibly in Bluefield, W.Va., but they decided to stay in downtown Bluefield, Va.
“Both communities are very dear to me,” Nancy Grant said, adding that former Leslie Ann’s customers will know where to find the new store.
“The customers will know where to find me and it’s where I’ve been for eight years,” she said.
While businesses have been struggling because of the pandemic, plans for the new store are moving ahead.
“It’s kind of a scary time to do it, but David and Darlene worked really hard during COVID and did well,” Nancy Grant said. “It’s going to take a little more work than normal letting people know you’re there. She was constantly on social media and she’s a good teacher, and I think we’ll pick up where she left off just fine.”
Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline. com