A year into COVID: Small business outcomes are mixed

Pedestrians in downtown Flagstaff stop at the Sweet Shoppe Candy Store, March 7.

It has been roughly a year since the coronavirus led to a nationwide shutdown. Adults worked from home, businesses closed and kids did not return to school after spring break. Some people were scared to leave their homes no matter the amount of gloves and masks they could layer on. They busied themselves at home trying to fill the time while hoping the virus would disappear soon. 

Small businesses took a hit during the lockdown last year and some are still feeling the effects of COVID-19 restrictions. Some had to shut their doors, resulting in limited profits in March 2020 just like large corporations. The only difference? They had a lot more to lose. A year later and these small businesses that make up Flagstaff have come away with 12 months-worth of ups and downs. It’s a case-to-case basis on the impacts the virus has had on different shops and restaurants. Some struggled to maintain sales while others flourished. Some felt the support of Flagstaff residents while others awaited the support from their local community that never came.

Kay Yoo, who works downtown at the Fire on the Mountain art gallery, commented about life now versus a year ago. 

“This time last year people didn’t come out to the shop,” Yoo said. “They were really scared and didn’t want to be anywhere near downtown because of it.” 

Yoo also said a positive of shutting down was a lot of locals supported the gallery by purchasing pieces online. She said people went out of their way to support local businesses, which was good because their store wasn’t open to the community.

Tourism is a big profit for downtown Flagstaff and is enjoyed by the local community yearlong. Some people visit from Phoenix to enjoy the cool weather, others stop on their way to the Grand Canyon and some just come up to enjoy the historic town on Route 66. 

Downtown Diner manager Mark Jent shared business has been hard since the beginning of last March.

Jent said tourists, and even locals, haven’t been coming out to the diner much. Foot traffic and the customer base has been cut in half, Jent said. 

“There’s been so many ways that COVID has affected business, and we’ve definitely felt the effects,” Jent said. “People are afraid to come out so we had to cut staffing. It’s insane. We’ve fluctuated with the hours of business and cost and prices have inflated.”

On the other hand, some businesses have surprisingly benefited from the virus and have been bringing in profit regardless of the circumstances. The Sweet Shoppe Candy Store, which is located only a few doors down from the Downtown Diner, has had a completely different experience. 

Sweet Shoppe Candy Store worker Lexy McKee shared the business has actually become more successful since the beginning of the virus. 

“We’ve actually tripled in sales,” McKee said. “The shop really relies on tourism and for some reason, our tourism levels haven’t been affected much. It might be because we’re a grab-and-go shop versus a restaurant, but either way we’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

Sweet Shoppe Candy Store worker Natalie Hansen said the biggest difference between current business and last year’s is the precautions the store takes. The workers wear gloves and masks, limit the amount of people allowed inside and have plastic shields protecting them from customers. On top of this, she said some employees have been out sick, which has been stressful. 

This has been a weird and hard year for many small businesses who already deal with the competition of corporations and chains. Some businesses have been worse off due to the virus, others better off and a lot of them stuck somewhere in the middle. 

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