By Heidy Brosofsky-Weaver
“Success in life largely depends upon one’s ability to adapt to change,” a wise friend once shared. This idea rings true for many small businesses during the recent pandemic, and owners are creatively finding ways to adjust with support from their customers.
At All About Ballroom in Fruit Cove, manager Zeljko “Jake” Lukich is appreciative of loyal clients who took lessons through ZOOM during the state-mandated closing of businesses. Now, after reopening, the studio provides masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, taking all precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
For example, the number of dancers on the expansive ballroom floor is now limited to 10 per group, and there are separate doors for entry and exit.
“People feel safe, and that’s the main thing,” said Lukich, who opened the studio six years ago.
Rebecca Mullens of the Twisted Compass Brewing Co. also pays close attention to the ever-changing requirements.
“We make sure we put customer and employee safety first,” she said.
Mullens said customers have been faithful throughout the pandemic, taking advantage of to-go and online ordering options. Some even purchased gift cards for healthcare workers, firefighters, and police officers.
“We live and take pride in our wonderful community,” she said. “Great coffee shop conversations, in these times, have helped us form new friendships and bonds that we cherish and do not take for granted.”
While some businesses can rely on an established customer base, veterinarian Jennifer Lockwood opened Crosswinds Veterinary Hospital in late February, just weeks before the pandemic began. Her office is tucked away behind Memorial Emergency Center on Race Track Road, and she said people were hesitant to venture out in general, much less visit a new veterinarian.
A business partner with Creekside High School and Durbin Creek Elementary, Dr. Lockwood worked at a mixed animal practice in Bunnell for five years before opening Crosswinds. She took great care in designing the brand new facility where pets are greeted by a sign with their name. Additionally, each room offers pet snacks and toys, informative videos, and an Echo Dot for customized music.
“We want the animals to feel comfortable,” she said.
At this point, Dr. Lockwood relies a lot on word of mouth and social platforms, and her practice is growing as “people see value in what we offer.” Her priorities include education and communication with pet owners so they can be more active in their animal’s health.
Communication is also important to Chantal Bearchen, owner of the Belgian Sweet House. A native of Belgium, Bearchen is not eligible for small business assistance. Another challenge is that many of her regular customers are elderly and confined to assisted living facilities. In fact, she calls some of her dearly-missed customers regularly to check on them.
“The people who visit my shop are not customers. I like to treat everyone as a friend,” said Bearchen. In addition to items like fresh crepes and waffles, the shop has a wide array of imported Belgian goods, including chocolate from the family business.
To help Bearchen, a number of customers post videos and photos on social platforms, and there is a GoFundMe account, as well.
Clearly, the thread of support that runs through this community is an important part of the small business tapestry.
Photo courtesy Heidy Brosofsky-Weaver
Zeljko “Jake” Lukich of All About Ballroom.