As Birmingham re-opens, small businesses are facing unique challenges. Alabama’s Safer at Home order requires businesses to open only at half of their normal capacity. Locations with smaller square footage are adjusting to these guidelines and thinking creatively about how to keep their business functioning safely.
“Entrepreneurs are some of the most creative problem solvers I know. Birmingham’s small business community has been nimble and responsive, all while remaining upbeat and optimistic about our future,” said REV’s Director of Recruitment and Growth, Taylor Clark.
Sojourns-Fair Trade owner Melissa Kendrick has been allowing customers to make one-hour private appointments to ensure that they can shop alone.
“Five people in Sojourns is well below 50-percent capacity, but a lot of people are reticent to be around others because they don’t know what their habits have been,” Kendrick said.
Sojourns is cleaning everything after it’s been touched, including jewelry and clothing. Kendrick is also encouraging people to use PayPal at the register and let her check off for their signature to reduce contact there. Customers have been gracious, she says, and many are perhaps rediscovering what’s been in their own backyard all along.
“People are hyper–focused on local right now,” she said. “I hate it’s taken a global pandemic for people to stop and look around them, but I appreciate that they have.”
“Birmingham’s small business community has been nimble and responsive, all while remaining upbeat and optimistic about our future.”
At 1,750 square feet, Rojo has also faced space-related challenges. Owner Laney Dejonge says because the team has to spread out in the main dining room to safely assemble to-go orders Rojo has had to choose between opening the dining room and continuing curbside. For now, curbside will continue with options that Rojo hadn’t offered before COVID-19.
“We’re such a small little part of the neighborhood, we have a lot of support from our neighbors. We have a lot of loyal people that help us,” Dejonge said. “[COVID-19 has] made us have to do some stuff we’ve never had to do before – Grubhub, TakeOut Birmingham, and putting our menu online.”
“We’re such a small little part of the neighborhood; we have a lot of support from our neighbors. We have a lot of loyal people that help us.”
Joe Phelps is the owner and bartender at Pilcrow Cocktail Cellar, which re-opened May 19 operating at a limited occupancy of 24.
“Before reopening, we added curtains between sections, as well as 6-foot spaces of empty sections in between,” he said. “The curtains have actually been a hit, and we will probably upgrade what we have now to something more permanent.”
Phelps commended his fellow downtown businesses of all footprint sizes for their creative problem solving and strict adherence to CDC guidelines. It’s important, he said for the Birmingham business community to give people safe places to go as they venture back out into the world. Just as important is customers following the guidelines – and so far Phelps says his have been understanding and respectful of the new spacing requirements.
“We are just happy to be doing what we love in some form,” he said. “I think the experience we can offer hasn’t declined; it has just changed. We are all learning new things, and the challenges are making us better.”
“We are just happy to be doing what we love in some form.”
Clark, Director of Recruitment and Growth, concluded, “It’s been inspiring to see how businesses have shifted their model — not just because the customer wants it, but because they feel it’s the right thing to do. When I talk to our small business community about how they’re moving forward, I hear genuine care for the community, resiliency and a willingness to adapt for longevity. We truly are Bham Strong.”
Nationally sought-after professional food and travel photographer Stephen DeVries has been growing his business in The Switch since 2016.
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