How Lowcountry small businesses are adapting amid the pandemic

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Small local businesses across the country are feeling the brunt of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In South Carolina, thousands of locally-owned businesses have closed for good.

A pillar in the Mount Pleasant community for nearly fifty years, Jean Wellmon, owner of Jean’s Bridal – a premiere wedding attire boutique in Mount Pleasant – says she has seen a lot over her 47 years in business, but nothing like this.

Like many small business owners, Wellmon and her four employees have had to make adjustments.

She says, “We have been impacted. The girls have had to cut back on their weddings, choosing less formal – some have, some haven’t – but most girls are wearing things less formal now. It’s the way life is now. We just keep changing with what the girls want. We’ve been here to help in any way we possibly can.”

Ben Homeyer is state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the largest small business group in the U.S. He says the wedding industry has been hit hard. “Good thing about South Carolinians is we are resilient, and hopefully those folks will be able to hang on and try to come back as best they can. “

Homeyer went on to say, “10% of all small businesses here in the state have closed and will not reopen, extremely tragic. Over 90% of all South Carolinians work in a small business. There are a number of people that sadly lost their job because of this. We know another 15% won’t make it another six months, and another 17% won’t make it another year from now without changes occurring.” Changes, he says, like the economy full re-opening, or help from another stimulus package.

According to NFIB, economic recovery for small businesses has been uneven. There are 100,000 small businesses in the state, 10,000 have closed. Of those still open, 40% are back or nearly back to pre-crisis levels.

Homeyer says, “Especially hard hit are all the folks that deal with tourism; your restaurants, small shops there along King Street along market place that rely on tourists. Not only those folks, your motor coach carriers; the people aren’t traveling anymore, aren’t coming in the state. Those folks aren’t coming back. It’s your HVAC store owners, plumbers, and restaurant owners- so there is a large swath of people across South Carolina that sadly won’t be coming back or really struggling to hang on.”

Homeyer says sales numbers remain down but he is optimistic.

The push intensifies to encourage consumers to support local businesses. “We’ve got to get those numbers back up. As the vaccine becomes more prevalent, that will certainly help people feel more confident in going out in a place like Charleston, that will certainly be helpful,” he said. “I am optimistic that our small business owners will be able to come through this. With some help, they will get through this. They will be able to come back and hopefully be stronger than ever.”

“We hope that things will get back to somewhat normal — if we can remember what normal is,” said Wellmond. “We want the girls to get back to having that big wedding they wanted, and as many guests that they want to have, but we also want everyone to be safe.”

In an NFIB survey of small business owners, most said they do not expect business conditions to improve to normal levels until later this year.

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