Local businesses adjust to new normal

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When local business owner Christine Waldrop first heard that President Donald Trump had declared a state of emergency for the United States, she decided to close down the front end of her relatively new floral and event design shop, Blluum. With a nursing background, she more than understood how important it was to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Even before Tennessee or the county had issued any kind of thing related to that, we made the decision to shut our door and have no customer contact at that point,” Waldrop said.

Since that time, as local, state and federal governments began to amp up rules to keep everyday citizens home, nonessential businesses have had to close their doors. Meanwhile, organizations that provide “essential” services, like hospitals, grocery stores and restaurants have had to find new ways to continue operations while following social distancing protocols and avoiding human contact.

For Lisa Goolsby, owner of the Wired Coffee Bar, this meant transitioning to curbside pick-up and reducing hours of operations. 

“I sat down with my accountant and we looked at where we could trim and cut back and how we could sort of streamline our process,” Goolsby said. “I worked hard to get the order-online up and going immediately, and a process in place to be able to provide coffee in-service to the customers who are regulars that come every day.”

For many owners, these times have been a testament to the support of the local community.

Even though her inventory has been limited as distributors face their own hardships, Waldrop said that as life still goes on, people still have a need for flowers and gifts for their loved ones. So, her customers have adjusted to ordering online or over the phone, especially when it comes to shipments as she offers mailing, delivery and curbside pick up.

“I have to give God credit for this because my orders are coming in for things,” she said. “I mean, I had orders called in this morning, and I was down at the shop filling those orders; and it happens like that every week.”

Although Wired has lost business and workers because of the lack of college students, who had to return to their own homes, the shop is still patronized by its local regulars.

“I feel very fortunate to be in such an awesome community,” Goolsby said. “They’ve been giving very generous tips to my employees that I’m trying to keep employed. And they’ve done good with coming and buying coffee beans or preloaded gift cards, which has helped us with cash flow issues.”

But for some business owners, days aren’t as busy. For Sonya Guffey, owner of the Mountain Oaks Tea Room, the reality of COVID-19 has closed her doors for the foreseeable future.

“People come to my place for an experience [and] they come to spend time with people, and you can’t do either right now,” she said. “It’s just terrifying. I’m scared for my business. I’m scared for the people who work for me, like contractors and things like that, because we’re all there. They’re just as devastated as I am.”

Although her business is closed, Guffey has seen community support as many people are purchasing gift cards to be used once the crisis is over. But she said the unknown timeline is disheartening.

“You don’t know how to reschedule,” she said. “A lot of what I deal with is parties and weddings and events. And nobody knows how to reschedule or when to start thinking about it.”

Currently, to help with losses of customers and income, the federal government is offering small businesses loans to help tide them over. Guffey and Goolsby said they have both applied for loans from this program, some of which can apply to loan forgiveness depending on how the funds are used, according to sba.gov. 

For Goolsby, funds received will help the business with keeping up with payroll and rent, while Guffey is still waiting to hear back about her application.

In addition to federal funding, some businesses are seeing support from more local forms of government.

In an effort to highlight restaurants that are still open, Collegedale Police Chief Brian Hickman recently began featuring eateries on the department’s social media accounts in an initiative called “Business of the Day.”   

So far, according to their Facebook, the police have spotlighted and eaten at businesses such as 4corner’s Cafe, Salsaritas, local pizza places and many more. According to the posts, the initiative is meant to help show “Collegedale pride.”

Businesses are also getting resources and community support from fellow owners and from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, which has a local Collegedale/Ooltewah Council.

In terms of looking towards the future, Goolsby emphasized the importance of local businesses and is looking forward to returning to full service.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy,” Goolsby said. “We do appreciate all of the support from our community, and we look forward to being back better than ever before and 100 percent so that we can continue to make Collegedale and Ooltewah an interesting place for business.”

And for business owners like Guffey, they are just waiting for the day that it is safe for them to open back up to the public.

“I hope that when all of this is over, people are going to want to have a party and have get-togethers,” she said. “And I’m hoping that the Tea Room flourishes through people trying to reconnect with their loved ones.”

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