The streets are nearly empty, people are staying home, college students have gone home and things don’t feel normal in Gainesville.
With COVID-19 engulfing Florida, only essential business are allowed to stay open. Healthcare providers, pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations can still operate along with banks, hardware stores, contractors and child care services, among others.
On March 16, DeSantis announced an interest-free loan program for small businesses hurt by COVID-19. The federal government, meanwhile, intends to make available loans that do not have to be repaid if they are spent on such things as payroll and utilities.
To be eligible for the loan, the business must have been established prior to March 9, 2020 and demonstrate economic impacts as a result of COVID-19.
In the Gainesville area, many small businesses are trying to push through barriers by coming up with new ways to continue to provide services to their customers and keep themselves afloat.
Kori Brooks Yoga
As a mom and an independent, small business owner Kori Brooks created a yoga studio, Kori Brooks Yoga, that caters to both parents and children and utilizes American Sign Language. Before COVID-19 struck, Brooks practiced in the studio space at House of Waking Life..
On March 13, as the virus spread to the U.S. and President Trump announced a national emergency, Brooks decided to move her yoga routines to online, live-streaming classes. She is now offering classes for the discounted price of $7 through Zoom, a video communications tool.
“I feel like this is giving us a chance to see what could be accomplished online,” she said.
Brooks said people need yoga now more than ever to help them relax. She said even she was frazzled and finding herself scrolling through social media more.
“Yoga is something that, because of the focus on the breath, is extraordinarily calming for the nervous system,” Brooks said. “It allows the mind to start to create a little bit of space between the continual thoughts and start to find that place of calm.”
Brooks said the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program is something that she would likely apply for and would find helpful.
“I feel like it’s a wonderful initiative and could help us keep our small businesses up and going,” Brooks said. “I’m able to do some business online, but it’s not nearly the business that I was getting before.”
She said she feels like without some financial help from the state, a lot of people who have small businesses might end up applying for other jobs just to pay the bills and may never get back to their small business if they remain in survival mode.
North Florida Painting and Home Improvement
Bill Gillespie, 46, the owner of North Florida Painting and Home Improvement, has been in construction work since he was 16.
Gillespie said his company, comprised of him and one other employee, will continue servicing houses for emergency repairs, like leaking roofs, damaged doors or broken windows.
Gillespie is still giving estimates when people call, but he said he has stopped getting new calls almost completely.
He is offering 40% off all exterior paint jobs. He said he is putting 30% of his profits toward purchasing Publix and Winn-Dixie gift cards for people who are out of work due to the virus.
He is also being flexible when it comes to payment.
“Let’s take an average person who just lost their job and now has something that needs to be fixed,” Gillespie said. “It’s either put food on the table or postpone that (project), and I don’t mind fixing it for them. That’s just how I was raised.”
He continued: “Really it depends on what the issue is and how much the repairs will cost. I don’t mind paying for the supplies, but some repairs can get costly as far as materials needed. In a case like this, we would break it up into payments at 0% interest to be paid at a later date.”
His long-term business plan is to take it one day at a time.
“If North Florida Painting and Home Improvement can help in any way, then that is what we will do,” Gillespie said.
Although Gillespie has not had to lay off his employee because of COVID-19, he said his company is not currently hiring.
It is one thing to be a small business owner, it is another thing to be a brand new small business owner who opened up shop just weeks before the global pandemic affected Florida.
Katherine Osman, who works as the director of community services at Oak Hammock, a retirement community, also owns the Pinspiration Gainesville franchise location.
Osman said it would be “super helpful” to have some financial assistance from the state government.
“We just opened and I haven’t had to take out loans to this point,” Osman said. “I should have been making something by now – not a profit but something.”
After a year-long process, Osman was finally able to open the craft shop in mid-February. She wanted to partner with Pinspiration because she connected to the company’s values, which include giving back to the community and inspiring people.
“With that structure in mind, I also have always loved arts and crafts and creating things,” Osman said.
During this time of social distancing and quarantines, Osman and her six staff members are brainstorming ways they can bring the business to customers’ homes.
“This is uncharted territory because (Pinspiration Gainesville) is supposed to be an experiential-based event,” Osman said. “Now we are trying to make this a virtual experience.”
Pinspiration Gainesville is offering to-go kits that can be picked up curbside and include everything one would need to complete the craft. There are crafts for adults, children and everyone in between. The crafts have been discounted by 20% to relieve some of the financial burden from customers. In the future, Osman wants to start live online classes to stay connected to her customers.
Osman also encouraged her customers to use this time to find boredom busters.
“If you’re on quarantine or have been told to stay home, use this time to do something you wouldn’t normally have time to do,” Osman said. “You do have time to make that weird craft you’ve always wanted to make.”
CRASH Technicians has offered computer repairs and software help for over 15 years, and owner Nirav Shah will continue to provide services to his customers for as long as he can.
“The biggest thing is going to be setting people up for remote work and video conferencing,” Shah said.
Most of what Shah does is remote work anyway, but he has been collaborating with other IT colleagues across the state to come up with new ways to support his clients and promote his business.
For Shah, who runs the business basically by himself, it has never been about the money and that is not going to change.
“If there is someone that is struggling, and I can tell, I will cut them a break,” Shah said.
Polished Paws and Claws
Although animals cannot contract COVID-19, Polished Paws and Claws owner Yesenia Watson said the virus can live in animals’ hair, so it is important to have pets washed and groomed.
According to the Florida Department of Health’s Twitter page, though, the Centers for Disease Control “has not received any reports of pets or other animals contracting or spreading #COVID19. However, it is always a good precaution to wash your hands after touching an animal.”
Polished Paws and Claws, which is run by Watson and her fiancé Olivia Lefferts, has a mobile trailer, which allows Watson and her crew to go to people’s houses to provide pet grooming, dog sitting, dog walking and dog massage therapy services.
Despite the order for non-essential businesses to close, Watson said her mobile business remains open and available to travel to customers’ homes for pet grooming. The order exempts businesses that have less than five employees and can observe the social distancing guidelines.
“We make sure everything is disinfected in the trailer as well as taking precautions for ourselves when we are done with our job,” Watson said. “We wouldn’t go into anyone’s houses and I take my own leash.”
If the virus continues to get worse, Watson said she will rely on her online website to keep her business afloat for the time being. The website offers bandanas and other merchandise for sale. But Watson is worried that, if she cannot get out to clients’ houses anymore, the animals might suffer.
“They get matted hair and knots in their hair and it can cause issues with their skin,” Watson said. “So the fact that I won’t be able to go out as much will cause issues with the dog’s coat conditions.”
As of right now, Polished Paws and Claws is not offering any discounts.
“We really can’t afford to right now,” Watson said.
Watson said she is thinking about offering discounts for students and for military servicemen and women.
Although there are opportunities to apply for a state loan, Watson said she is not interested.
“We are very fortunate that we are able to still work so we are going to avoid any loans if possible,” Watson said.