Area businesses hope for better times ahead

By Page H. Gifford

The slogan “buy local” in Fluvanna means more than ever to small businesses struggling to stay afloat in an economy slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, business owners remain hopeful that there will be better times ahead if they can remain stable in a very unstable economic environment.

There are 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S., and many make up the local economy of Fluvanna County. In various areas of the county, one sees the effect of the pandemic. Most of the stores in the Sycamore Square strip mall are closed except for Dominoes, Cuppa Joe’s, El Vaquero and Local Eats. Dominoes is a separate entity being that it is part of a corporate chain and has always relied on take-out and delivery, but Dogwood across the street, Cuppa Joe’s, and El Vaquero rely on more than take-out. They miss their regular customers though some still support the businesses and are glad they are remaining open part-time.

Due to the uncertain economic climate, Dogwood Restaurant, El Vaccaro, and Cuppa Joe’s are open only for take-out. Dogwood is serving curbside and Cuppa Joe’s, El Vaquero, and Local Eats allow no more than 10 people inside and require social distancing. Panda, the Chinese restaurant, was always doing a booming take-out business but its doors are closed until further notice.

Brooke Brady and Amy Myers of Local Eats.

“I have never been busier,” said Amy Myers, owner of Local Eats. She attributed her good fortune to the fact that she is more of a grocery set-up and also sells alcohol. “It’s different, I get more orders over the phone and customers come by and pick-up their orders or we deliver. It is just a different way of doing business,” she said. “But the customers want to support us and support local businesses.”

Bottomz Up Bar & Grill, Sal’s Italian Restaurant, and Villa Nova are also open for take-out. Happy Tails is not allowing customers into their store, it is pick-up curbside only. They will come out and take orders or you can call in an order. Jefferson Pharmacy is giving customers the option of curbside pick-up.

Both Myers and Owen Edgerton, owner of Cuppa Joe’s, have applied for the SBA loan for small businesses and didn’t have too many obstacles to getting their paperwork done. Retail, restaurants, and cafes have more at stake and more overhead. Edgerton has five employees and the surrounding restaurants have more. Waiting and inaction are frustrating but they are doing their best to stay in the game.

Edgerton and another customer were discussing the Wall Street Journal article regarding the small business stimulus package and the payment of $20 million to the high-end Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Washington, D.C. It was clear that this did not settle well with small local businesses adrift during trying times. Some also speculated over morning coffee if the $2 trillion dollar package would be enough.

Krystal Townsend, like all realtors, has seen significant blows to the economy in the past that have affected the real estate industry. When this hit, she was closing on a house and still had other prospects. She is now looking into the SBA loan application. Despite her worry her outlook continues to be positive, knowing this is not the first-time realtors have experienced serious ups and downs in the economy.

Small business owner and travel agent Forney Shell of Pan Piper Travel was hit hard but remains optimistic despite the economic downturn in the travel industry.

“I have been spending time canceling and rescheduling trips; otherwise it is dead,” said Shell. “Cruise lines extended their travel times until the end of June and then see what will happen. Mostly it is a wait and see attitude.”

Once things turn around, Shell says travel experts see a strong comeback for the industry. He adds that after the COVID-19 scare, Americans may prefer traveling through the U.S. rather than overseas.

Ashleigh Morris, owner of  No Place Like Home Pet Services said she still has her essential employees and — as challenging as dog training is — she is managing to help dog owners by working around the coronavirus and minimizing risk. They practice social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands. When not able to be present, she instructs via e-mails and over the phone. She is also thankful for clients for whom she does dog walking and pet sitting.

Strong faith and dedication to helping her clients is the focus of her business.

“God didn’t bring me this far to leave me and it’s my job to bring the dogs and their owners through this safely,” said Morris. “My sister, who is on the board of the Richmond Animal League, told me that they have experienced lots of adoptions since people are home more but she said that means when all this has passed these new pet owners will need a lot of help  training their furry friends.” Morris adds that she is “staying confident” and doing what she can.


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