Small businesses adjust to shifting COVID-19 landscape

Michael Bushnell

For all intents and purposes, business at PH Coffee prior to the COVID-19 outbreak was good. The dining room was often busy with neighborhood people working on their laptops or those out for a walk who dropped in to enjoy the ambiance of the new neighborhood coffee shop.

All that shifted, however, after the March 24 stay-at-home order was issued by state and local officials in order to combat the explosive growth of the virus. That order has some local small businesses scrambling to drastically change their business model in order to survive the storm.

Nayeli Macias, a barista at PH Coffee in the Pendleton Heights neighborhood, has seen business plummet by over 60% since the order was given to stay home. 

“We’ve been hit particularly hard and as weeks progress those numbers will likely go up,” she said, looking out over their empty dining room that would normally be bustling with customers on a Friday morning. 

Macias is optimistic about PH Coffee weathering the storm, however. 
“We’ll pull through this, especially with owners who, I can see in their actions, really care about our well being as employees.”

Kansas City Canning Company in the East Bottoms is a business that shifted their production to a product that is in high demand right now: hand sanitizer.  That shift has allowed the addition of staff for the time being, in order to meet the growing demand for packaged sanitizer.

“I could see the market for luxury pickles was going to go down the tubes for the next couple of weeks at the very least,” said company owner Tim Tuohy. “We saw a need to help the community with hand sanitizer and luckily we’ve actually been able to hire some additional people when other people are being laid off.”

Shifting the company’s product took three days to move from luxury canning to hand sanitizer, but the pivot has allowed Tuohy to get through a tight spot. 

“It’s been a whirlwind adventure and an extremely busy two weeks but we’ve been able to help out the people who’ve been able to take care of us.”

Dan Smith, principal at Eleos Coffee at Independence and Indiana Avenues, shuttered the retail side of the operation and their team now focuses on helping to meet the needs of those most at risk in the community. 

“We’re being extremely careful to observe the social distancing mantra at the same time while we focus our energies on those unable to get to a grocery store or provide the basics for themselves,” Smith said. “It’s a more mission-centric shift that benefits the community at large.”

Providing support to the Historic Northeast business community at large, the Northeast Chamber of Commerce and the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District CID Ambassadors have been dispatched to area gas stations and grocery stores to provide sanitary wipes, rubber gloves, and sanitary washing solution to those using gas pumps and shopping carts respectively.

On Friday, CID representatives also posted signs in front of local retailers to help drive traffic to those who are open and offering drive-thru or curb-side service to patrons. 

“We’re maintaining our support for our local business community and at the same time, offering an additional focus on public health and safety,” said Chamber President Bobbi Baker-Hughes. “We have a vibrant and diverse business community here in the historic Northeast and we’re doing our best to help our community partners weather this storm.”

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