Small businesses

Even with its dining room closed, Café Poland’s pick-up window has allowed the business to continue serving customers safely during COVID-19.

Everyone has been forced to adjust during a time of mask requirements and social distancing guidelines, including small businesses. Harold’s Doughnuts added a walk-up window at its downtown location. Flyover began to offer takeout, a first for the South Columbia restaurant. The Missouri Alcohol and Tobacco Control lifted its ban on selling alcohol to go.

COVID-19 has turned “normal” into a thing of the past. And for small businesses, the new routine determines their futures. In downtown Columbia, the “old normal” included bustling streets full of college students and locals, but downtown is now quieter because of the pandemic.

Nickie Davis, executive director of the Downtown Columbia Improvement District, says the pandemic is “probably the most tragic thing that could have happened” to Columbia’s local businesses. As of Sept. 2, four bars and restaurants in The District, including Kaldi’s and The Penguin Piano Bar, have permanently closed. And the food industry isn’t the only one being affected.

The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which aims to prevent layoffs at small businesses, granted loans to 304 businesses in Columbia, according to KOMU. Salon Nefisa, owned by Sara El-Toumi, was one of those 304, and El-Toumi says the loans were helpful in easing the financial burden of the pandemic.

Businesses such as Salon Nefisa have incurred extra costs for necessary operational changes. For El-Toumi, that meant purchasing disposable masks, extra sanitizer, plexiglass shields for the reception desk and manicure stations and more cleaning products for the salon’s two locations. Plus, Salon Nefisa has moved styling stations farther apart to ensure the recommended 6-foot distance is maintained. El-Toumi says she doesn’t know what measures might remain in place in a post-pandemic Columbia, but that she wants customers to continue to feel safe.

Restaurants, on the other hand, might see some safety measures stick around. “People are avoiding crowds,” says David Steffes, central regional director of the Small Business Development Center for Missouri. “Some like to have hands-on experience, but a lot of people are still hesitant to go out in public, and because of that, curbside pickup, delivery or online shopping have become popular.”

Davis and Steffes both say the future will likely see curbside pickup and other shopping alternatives become permanent options, and shoppers and businesses could continue to follow the guidelines enforced now to protect people from COVID-19. Community support will also determine the outcome for small businesses.

“I think the local shops in Columbia have a loyal customer base, just reminding (customers) that they’re still here and they’ll welcome them back with open arms,” Steffes says. “That will be necessary to combat the struggle of COVID-19.”

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