Area’s small businesses trying to cope

Area’s small businesses trying to cope
Elizabeth Schuster

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed numerous challenges for small businesses in the Orrville area and beyond.


How are Orrville area businesses adapting to the restrictions during the stay-at-home order? How can we as a community help?

Since the early stages of the pandemic, the Orrville Area Chamber of Commerce has had a forward-looking perspective, providing information on COVID-19 to its members. Lori Reinbolt, president and CEO of the Orrville Area Chamber of Commerce, has been following the news closely, paying attention to every sign that could give insight into the transition back to work.

“We recognize this is a health crisis, and we need to take that seriously,” Reinbolt said, “but we need to think about our small businesses — mom and pop shops with one to 20 employees. We can’t rely on money coming from the government. We’ve got to take care of our own.”

This pandemic has posed numerous challenges for small businesses. Many suffer with their current cash flow situation, some are sitting on inventory and many have rent to pay even though revenues have decreased. What’s going to happen to them if this crisis drags on for another year?

It’s a time of contradictions. There are reasons to have hope for our economy. At the same time, many business adaptations are Band-Aid solutions that will not be sustainable. “Everyone has to think about how to do this different. Nothing is business as usual. If a business is going to survive, they are going to have to pivot,” Reinbolt said.

Nancy Yoder, owner of Nancy’s Draperies Inc., initially started by manufacturing free face masks for hospitals and nursing homes. Yoder said it was pretty easy to switch over to masks because her staff already consisted of skilled seamstresses. They used patterns recommended through the hospital website. They already had the equipment and table space, so it was not a big learning curve.

“It morphed into something more than I thought it could be,” Yoder said.

They now sell large orders and to individuals as well. Nancy’s Draperies is a success story for now and the foreseeable future — until demand changes again, and once again they may need to adapt.

3-D Meats in Dalton is another interesting example. They purchase local meat — beef, pork and lamb — and slaughter and process that meat in their facility. Jan Hilty, who owns the business together with her husband Leon, said they used to get a good percentage of their sales from restaurants but were able to shift over to more retail sales. Demand has increased substantially, and business is going so well they have needed to purchase additional meat.

They are practicing social distancing. Employees in their retail store are wearing masks, carts are being cleaned frequently and they are limiting the amount of people in store.

3-D Meats feels fortunate to have been able to stay open because they have healthy employees, and they source their animals locally. Having a short supply chain has allowed them to respond quickly to the change in demand.

An entirely different business model can be seen in Mrs. J’s restaurant in Orrville. Mrs. J’s has many customers who visit regularly in groups, so how would they adjust to the new stay-at-home guidelines? And what would Mrs. J’s staff need to do behind the scenes for the shift to 100 percent takeout orders?

“We as a business were already positioned to do carryout. All we had to do was add to our stock of takeout containers,” said Darin Johnson, who owns the business with his wife Barbie.

Sounds simple, but it ended up being more complicated. Even with loyal customers continuing to patronize their business, there was a decline in sales. Mrs. J’s made more adjustments. They eliminated any low sellers on the menu, reduced costs and adjusted store hours.

“This is something we could weather for a little while,” Johnson said, “but it’s not something we want to continue.”

The adaptations businesses are making are not enough to help them survive under these conditions indefinitely.

This is a time for people to collaborate more than ever. When two local furniture stores had their delivery of furniture blocked, Reinbolt advocated to the Wayne County Health Department for delivery of the furniture in a way that was consistent with social distancing, allowing the stores to at least temporarily meet customer demand.

All of us have an opportunity to collaborate and support local businesses right now. “It is so important for the community to shop locally. If there was ever a time this matters, it is now,” Reinbolt said. “It becomes personal; it’s about our neighbors.”

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