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Local businesses reflect on year since the start of the pandemic

Updated: Mar. 11, 2021 at 7:02 AM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Businesses in the state are approaching the one-year mark since they began operating under restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The financial impact has caused the closure of some businesses, and in some cases, the opening of others.

In Montgomery, businesses say it’s been a challenging year, but things are beginning to look up.

“It’s actually been way better than I ever thought it could be,” said Lynne Ellen Kershaw, Owner of Core Vibes Studio. “We’ve had clients that have been with us for 20 years, so we had a really loyal client base that came back, supported us, and have continued to support us.”

Kershaw said their studio is small, which has allowed for limited capacity, and disinfecting has continued to be a top priority.

“We’ve just been very careful, and I think there is a comfort level with our clients with that,” Kershaw said. “We just want to offer our clients the very best we can.”

When Pamala’s Boutique closed in March, Sales Associate Whittney Burdette said they had to learn a new way of doing business.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s also made us stay on our toes,” Burdette said. “We’ve just had to shift gears and kind of roll with the punches.”

Pamala’s began selling clothes curbside and online through Facebook Live. They also started using an app to make purchases easier for their customers.

“We had to get a free app and work around it,” Burdette said. “And now it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. We should have done it from the beginning. We are always changing and growing.”

It’s that quick adaptation that has worked in their favor.

“Sales have been steady, and they’re picking up,” Burdette said.

According to the Alabama Retail Association, state businesses actually collected more in sales taxes in 2020 than in 2019.

In 2020, retailers collected more than $3 billion in sales taxes. In 2019, retailers collected almost $2.8 billion in sales taxes on behalf of Alabama’s state government.

Jubilee Seafood Owner Bud Skinner said despite the challenges, business is on the upturn.

“Everything that we do now is different than what we were doing a year ago,” Skinner said. “It was a challenge, and I felt like we did a pretty good job meeting the challenge because we’re still here.”

Skinner said compared to where they were a year ago, things are much better.

“We are busier; there is no doubt about it,” Skinner said. “The attitude of the customers has been much more positive. They are in a much better mood and more willing to come out.”

Skinner said the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan the government provided helped keep their customers paid and their doors open.

“The PPP money the government gave us was the perfect fix to get us through,” Skinner said. “We needed it, and we used it, and it kept us from losing money. The numbers aren’t in completely yet, but we pretty much broke even in 2020, but we kept everybody employed, and the amount of business we are doing now will show a profit.”

Skinner said they wouldn’t have made it without their loyal customers and their dedicated staff.

“The theme of the whole thing was it doesn’t matter how we did it yesterday, we may just be doing it different today,” Skinner said.

It’s that exact attitude that has helped them and many other small businesses get through a year like 2020.

As of Dec. 1, over 110,000 U.S. restaurants were closed either temporarily or permanently, according to the National Restaurant Association. That’s 17 percent of the number of restaurants in business before the pandemic.

The Alabama Retail Association reports that the unemployment rate in 2020 was higher than it was in 2019. In March of 2020, 77,998 people were unemployed, and in March of 2019, 74,369 people were unemployed.

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