A year ago, the United States was paralyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As people were required to stay inside and avoid mingling and crowds, businesses were forced to adopt new strategies in order to remain solvent throughout the crisis.
Small businesses, such as Babylon Gyros in downtown Richmond, have especially struggled through this past year.
“It’s affected everybody,” said owner Solomon K., who has been running his restaurant for 11 years. “We’re just surviving. We’re making it.”
Like many restaurants, Babylon Gyros adopted a focus on to-go style orderings, a marked shift from their original dine-in model. Despite the setbacks, the restaurant is still going strong, and Solomon eagerly anticipates when things “can go back to normal.”
Capacity limits, shutdowns and mask mandates at the state-level have caused a rollercoaster of activity for most businesses, as well as creating instability in the market. Lessened demand has resulted in a steep decline in business and employment for people across the country. This massive shift has forced businesses across the country to rethink their strategies from the ground up.
As Thomas Martin, associate provost for research and economic development at Eastern Kentucky University, puts it, “Every business in the world became a start-up again. They had to identify new customers, new products, evaluate their market position and redevelop their supply and value chains all in an economy that was upended by a pandemic. Whether you were a startup, a midsize firm, or a Fortune 500 company, you had to adjust to the new economy.”
According to Kentucky.gov, the annual state unemployment rate for the year 2020 was 6.6 percent, up from 4.1 percent in 2019. Some of the biggest losses were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which contracted by 36,285 positions, and accommodation and food services, which fell by 31,312 positions in 2020.
Some industries have seen more success over the course of the pandemic. According to Mendi Goble, President and CEO of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, home improvement projects and renovations saw a marked increase in business. New lumber cabinets and granite countertops were hot commodities, as homeowners looked to liven up their surroundings. Outdoor activity equipment saw a rise as well, with increased sales in camping and boating equipment, as people had to either reschedule or cancel vacation plans.
“[People] were sitting at their houses for months on end and said, ‘Let’s do something,’” said Goble.
Other businesses have been less fortunate. Just across the street from Babylon Gyros, Burgher Burger was forced to shutter its doors on Feb. 24 after only two years in business. The owner has not been able to be reached for comment.
As a new spring starts, vaccinations are well underway in the United States and even on the campus of EKU. As states begin to see looser restrictions and businesses begin to open once more, many people are optimistic about the way things continue to develop.
Martin is confident that long term change will likely result from the events of the pandemic.
“Firms are going to get more involved in research of the opposition, more engaged in higher education and in the early stages of research and innovation. I think you’ll see pressure on those firms to think less about profit and more about their social responsibility. I think that’s what you’ll see in the next 10 years,” Martin said.
Goble believes that businesses are better prepared for such volatility in the future. “I don’t think anybody could ever be prepared for COVID, but I think we’ve learned a lot,” she said. “We obviously hope it’ll never happen again."