“Pure panic” as local businesses struggle under enormous weight of pandemic

By Lily Remick

The past few months have been difficult for small local businesses because of the pandemic. This summer was a difficult time for many businesses as they decided whether to open or not. This decision could affect the businesses forever. If they were to re-open, they may suffer a loss of money which will then depict whether the companies will ever open again. The decision is based largely on if they would make more money than losing it. The fear for smaller businesses was making enough money to keep them going. Recently, some stores have been closed for in person buisness because of the rise of Covid-19 cases throughout the community. The shutdown was not ideal for businesses, obviously. Our community of small businesses have had to learn to adapt to constant change. Most small businesses have become very advanced and focused on making their profit virtually. The reason behind the online aspect being successful is that locals are doing their part by staying at home, but are still able to shop online rather than in-person. 

Nantucket businesses thrive off tourists during the summer and during Winter Stroll weekend. This year numerous tourists arrived which helped stores, but with Winter Stroll being cancelled this winter, it is plausible to believe that this will bring many problems for the businesses. 

Julie Shirley, Owner of Easy Street Cantina in town states, “we just barely survived covid, we had to spend a lot of money to get the restaurant ready to be open during this pandemic.” They spent hours preparing the restaurant to be safe for customers—six feet apart tables, plexiglass, etc. Shirley goes on to say, “business was extremely slow this year, our biggest worry while we were operating was just making sure that every customer who came through the door had their mask on… constantly sanitizing all surfaces to keep everybody safe.” 

Stroll was difficult for many business owners as it was not traditional, they had to let go of employees for the time being, and fear losing even more money because of how slow it is in the winter. “Knowing that Stroll was cancelled, we knew we would need much less staff this year to work Stroll that Saturday, but in reality we should not have even opened at all, because it was slower than a regular weekend this time of the year,” Shirley said. 

Stephany Hunter who is another local business owner, Peachtrees, admitted to having to take out a loan from the bank in order to open. Hunter says, “I realized how this will affect my business long term, I will have to spend the next thirty years paying the loan back.” The initial and primary thoughts for Hunter were how will she keep everyone that walks in her shop safe, including herself. “I was scared for my health and the health of my customers. I put up social distance signs in the windows, and had hand-sanitizer and gloves by the door.” Stroll took a toll on the mental health of owners of businesses, “when I saw that stroll was cancelled my first reaction was pure panic.” Many owners have had to use creative resources to help make money, “I decided to use social media as a means to sell my goods. I started adding more to my website and used Instagram and Facebook to advertise and draw in customers.” 

Owners not only had to use resources, but also learn more about how to advocate for everyone’s safety, “My main fears were that people wouldn’t want to come into my small store because they would be scared, but also that I would have to work on not being shy and have to ask people to wear their masks.” 

Getting another perspective from Phill Osley, who is a main employer of Sunken Ship in town, “We were lucky to be a surviving business, we survived because we are an established 45 year-old word of mouth fun place to shop. We have always gone by customer request and try to carry everything one would need on our island. We know there are no retail ‘chains’ here so we try to provide.” Shops like Sunken Ship have popularity around Nantucket which helps them during the pandemic, but it still doesn’t make it easy to survive. “When we opened ‘curb side only’ it was very confusing, between dealing with phone and internet orders only, we quickly became used to it and prepared us for customers in ‘limited capacity’.” This store shows how much they care about their customers, which makes people want to return and rely on them. Stroll didn’t seem to make a difference for some companies, “Stroll being cancelled did not make much of a difference for us, the weather was nasty so we assumed many people wouldn’t have traveled here anyways.” Small stores such as the Sunken Ship and others all over Nantucket, have a high chance of employees contracting the virus and spreading it throughout the store. Osley shared, “My biggest fear was that an employee at the Sunken Ship would become sick and therefore start a spread, since we are such a small store that would be highly probable. We are just hoping this all suffices.”  

The pandemic has forced many small businesses to sacrifice money, health, and a sense of normalcy. Shirley, Hunter, and Osley all have said that their biggest fears were simply covid entering their small businesses. Due to community support, some companies were able to survive, but others were unable to keep afloat.

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