What Local Small Businesses Say About COVID-19: 1 Year Later


This article is part of our series “COVID-19: 1 Year Later,” exploring the ways COVID-19 has affected and changed daily life over the last year. For two weeks, we surveyed our readers on how COVID-19 has affected them. Read our survey results here.

While many small businesses were devastated by the pandemic, according to a recent survey conducted by Rutherford Source, others had a booming year last year. And the percentage of businesses who had booming years were about the same as those who had their businesses gutted.

As one small business owner reported, “We had the best year in 45 years of doing business. People were supporting small, local businesses and ordering many items online with delivery or curbside pickup.” And another had such a great year, that they were able to funnel funds into starting another company.

Some of those whose businesses excelled during the year had skills needed by the community. “I am a mindset coach,” said one respondent, “so my business stayed busy since there were so many more people stressed out. There are many people who now cannot afford emotional help because their businesses or jobs have been severely affected by the economic shutdown. My biggest concern is the people struggling emotionally without resources to get help.”

However, just as many had the opposite experience. One person went from having the best year ever in 2019 and the beginning of 2020 to absolutely nothing. And another reader, who is in the entertainment and event business, feels that the industry will continue to see many challenges and changes in the foreseeable future.

“I have a small business teaching CPR and First Aid to clients,” said another small business owner. “All work with AEDs and Emergency Plans. Most of my clients were not required to take CPR or were deferred or were working in their bedrooms and did not need CPR. After closing for a while, I ventured into private classes of one. Having just finished my taxed, I now know that my business lost 80 percent of my usual revenue. I was in the red for the first time in 18 years…So far, I do not see an improvement for 2021, which will force my business to close if trends continue for the year. Thankfully, I …do not need the money to live. However, I fear as other CPR Instructors quit because it is their job, the country will be at a loss of trained persons to deal with emergencies at the point of impact. I went from training around 200 people in a year to 25 persons in 2020.”

While the year was hard, only 20% of our respondents, who are small business owners, were totally devastated, and an even smaller percentage, 3%, closed their business for good. Just over 37% shut their business down temporarily.

As far as layoffs, of the small business owners who participated in the survey, a little over 7% had to lay off employees permanently, and about 12% laid off employees temporarily. The rest either worked alone or had no need to lay off employees.

Some businesses were able to keep going due to creativity and persistence, finding new vendors and new ways of doing things. Others, like entertainment and dining, were hurt and are still hurting due to the nature of the business.

The biggest challenges to moving forward seen by most respondents is keeping the workforce healthy, working through safety fears, and coping with constant change – be it in government rulings or market forces.

While things are slowly getting better overall, many industries still have many challenges ahead. One respondent says that the biggest challenge is going to be getting our economy back up running in full gear and getting people back to “normal, not near normal.”

Stay tuned as we will publish stories about specific small businesses and how they have coped the last year.

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