Staying open during COVID-19: A look at how four different small businesses are adapting

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On March 25, Executive Order No. 121 went into effect.  The order mandates that all North Carolina residents stay at their place of residence, leaving home only for a shortlist of essential activities.  The order forces many local small retailers to severely limit the scope of their business or even close indefinitely. Here’s a look at how four different Mint Hill businesses are weathering this storm and adapting to business in the time of COVID-19.

Pour 64

“The service industry is being hit hard by the COVID-19 virus,” says Sarah Brock, owner of Pour 64.  The local taproom and growler shop made the decision to close its doors on March 15, two days before North Carolina limited restaurants to carry out or delivery only.  

“We really wanted to take the time to think this through since we are in contact with so many people during the week,” says Brock.  “We had a long talk about the safety of our customers and our employees. The curbside pickup was the option that we ultimately decided was best for our business.”

Like many breweries in the area, Pour 64 now operates exclusively online to facilitate transactions that limit physical contact as much as possible.  Customers use the online store at to choose the beer or cider they want to purchase and select a pickup time.  When they arrive for pickup, they call the store, and they bring your purchase out.

Previously a place where people gathered to enjoy a pint in-house or fill a growler, Pour 64 is now limited to filling new, sterilized “Crowlers,” 32-ounce cans they fill and seal themselves.  “Pour 64 is using the same mindful cleaning procedures that we had before, but we did add gloves and masks to our filling process,” says Brock. “We sanitize every Crowler and lid before filling as well as cleaning all surfaces after each fill.”

Brock considers herself lucky to have an off-premise license, which enables them to sell beer to-go, but it’s definitely not business as usual.  “With the new guidelines, we are missing the customers coming in and the social interaction you get from that,” says Brock. “Customers are no longer able to come out and stay awhile to play games, listen to music, or enjoy a food truck, which was major services that we had to eliminate in order to comply with safety recommendations.”

Only weeks ago, you could find Pour 64 packed with patrons on the weekends.

“Pour 64 is a small local business, and we are hoping that we are able to survive long enough to reopen and start to serve our community again,” continues Brock.  The best way that people can support Pour 64 at this time is to go to their website and order some crowlers! As of Monday, April 6, Pour 64 had sold out of crowlers, but they hope to be resupplied and open for business again later this week.  In the meantime, you can always buy a gift card online to use when they reopen!

Massage Sanctuary 

As COVID-19 continued its spread through the state, Massage Sanctuary owner Lisa Lane was already taking extra measures to protect her clients.  “As a massage therapist, I have to follow strict sanitation guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control,” says Lane. “I follow those, but I was taking extra steps in sanitizing measures.”  

Even with additional cleaning measures in place, Massage Sanctuarys doors will remain closed for the duration of the Stay at Home order.

In addition to standard measures like sanitizing massage rooms between clients, Lane began wiping down all doorknobs with a Clorox wipe before and after contact, Lysoling everything she touched in her office, cleaning her phone after each transaction, and even wiping credit cards before handing them back to clients.

Lane’s business, however, came to an abrupt halt when Executive Order No. 121 went into effect.  On March 25, massage parlors – classified as “nonessential” businesses – were required to close their doors until the end of April.

Closing down for thirty days or more is an enormous financial obstacle for any small business, but Lane also worries about her clients.  “I live to serve and help them,” says Lane. “They have been daily blessings for me with their different needs, their laughter and their light. This means that my clients will have to self-help and work on staying in motion while we aren’t together.”

Like Brock, Lane considers herself relatively lucky.  “Of course, it’s a lack of income,” continues Lane, “but for now, I’m alright. For Brittany Taylor and Brian Millen that work with me, it was easier to let them stop working with me because they have other sources of income. That is a load off my mind. I see the challenges my friends and colleagues in the industry face with small businesses and employees, and my heart goes out to them.”

Massage Sanctuary will remain closed for the duration of the Stay at Home order, but Lane is always offering gift cards for purchase online She also has essential oils available in her virtual store that can be left out for porch pickup.  “I’m thinking about how to stay in touch with clients, and hoping to offer some virtual guidance during this time,” says Lane, “but I’ll do that free of charge.”

But the best way to help a business like Massage Sanctuary in this time?  “Remember me,” says Lane simply. “Remember Massage Sanctuary when the time comes to reopen. That’s all I want.”

“Believe me,” continues Lane, “every single day I am reminded of how fortunate I am that the Mint Hill community has embraced me. That never has been taken for granted. Things will surely be different when we pass through this phase, but I am a firm believer we will be stronger as a nation, as a world.”

Manchester Auto and Tire

When we think of essentials, we think of places we need to go all the time, like the grocery store.  But there are other businesses classified as essential even though we may not need them quite as frequently.

Manchester Auto and Tire remains open as an essential business.

Manchester Auto and Tire is one such essential business permitted to remain open during the Stay at Home order.  “We can stay open because we keep people’s means of transportation running,” says Kolton Manchester, who handles PR for the family-owned business.  “Yes, you’re supposed to stay home right now, but you’re allowed to leave to get groceries or to go to the doctor. What if you need food and your car won’t run?  They have to be there for us, even during a pandemic.”

Unlike a business like Pour 64, who has had to make major modifications to remain open, Manchester Auto and Tire has been able to offer most of the same services and products they offered before the pandemic.  “There are a few of our vendors that have chosen to close, but most of the companies that supply auto shops are also considered essential, so they’re open, and like us, practicing social distancing and upping their cleanliness,” says Manchester.

Which isn’t to say it’s simply business as usual at Manchester Auto and Tire.  Like any business that remains open during the Stay at Home order, they’ve had to rethink the way they operate to make sure their employees and clients are safe.  They now offer vehicle pick up and drop off to anyone within a ten-mile radius of the shop. You can also pay over the phone to avoid physical contact with store employees.  For customers who visit the store, the area is marked as best as possible to encourage social distancing.

“A lot of the services we’ve offered for years actually have become our saving grace,” says Manchester.  “For example, we’ve had a customer shuttle since 2006 to take people to and from home or work. Now we can use that as a way to keep people out of the office so they can stay healthy. They don’t have to risk any prolonged exposure by waiting in our office and possibly coming into contact with other customers or deliveries we receive.”

Although car repair may not be the first thing on most people’s minds, Manchester counters that if you have the means, now is actually a great time to have routine or major repairs done.  “We’re putting in a lot of extra care to keep your car as sanitized as possible when we work on it, and we’re offering ways to have repairs done without even coming in if you want,” he says.  “We’re here for you.”

Overall, Manchester considers himself lucky and hopes to remind people that they’re not the only locally-owned business out there right now.  “I’d like to mention that there are a lot of small businesses out there right now that really deserve some love,” says Manchester. “Check with the Mint Hill Chamber of Commerce. Just look through the directory and you‘ll see we have a vibrant small business community in this town, but we have to support them when we can if we want it to stay that way.”

Leisure Travel Experts

In a time when many people are struggling financially and everyone is directed to stay home as much as possible, planning a vacation is probably not the first thing on most people’s minds.

So it may surprise you to hear that Phil Angelo from Leisure Travel Experts is keeping busy.  “We are working every day to reschedule hundreds of clients to enjoy a relaxing vacation after this all settles down,” he says.  “Our national organization ASTA is in Washington, DC, every day working to protect our clients. As I tell them about my clients’ worries, they talk to congress representatives to pass legislation.”

Prior to the Stay at Home order, Leisure Travel had already moved their business 100% online.  “We use electronic meeting media daily,” says Angelo. “We have been given priority electronic communications with all of our vendors and we exchange over one hundred messages daily.”

Like everyone else, Angelo is adapting his business to this new climate.  “We are already equipped with online video and Virtual Reality,” continues Angelo.  “With our past travel experiences, we are positioned to have online client meetings and planning. Every day we are learning more about how to do a better job electronically.” 

Angelo encourages people to remember that supporting your Travel Consultants now isn’t necessarily about booking a vacation.  “Have an electronic conversation about how you feel about future travel,” he suggests. “Tell us what your fears and concerns are. Tell us what your thoughts are about travel when the dust settles. Remember what Travel Consultant are doing every day now and how we have all put our clients before profits.” 

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