In addition to its impact on public health, COVID-19 has caused a major economic shock to small businesses that has been felt by many in Moore County.
According to the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, after the initial displacement and dislocation of late spring’s lockdown, nearly 43% of businesses had to close across the Mid-Atlantic —and many, permanently.
Since then, the remaining businesses reported having reduced their active employment by 39%, contributing to the steepened national unemployment rate. The devastation varied across many industries, with retail, arts and entertainment, personal services, food services, and hospitality businesses suffering a 50% employment decline.
With the vaccine on the way, a second federal stimulus bill in limbo, and the holidays around the corner, small local businesses may find themselves in the most critical season yet. Some area businesses have been able to ride the pandemic’s wave of uncertainty.
Flowland, a counter-culture outlet in Aberdeen, has been able to weather some of these storms by cornering the niche market of skateboards, alternative clothing, CBD products, and disc golf. William Dean, its proprietor, is confident that Flowland’s unique products will help it outpace the big box stores.
“As a small business, I think we’re still holding onto our piece of the pie,” says Dean. “We’re lucky that we have a lot of space to work with, to allow people to maneuver around the store at an acceptable distance. Curbside was an easy hurdle, and we’ve just launched our online store. In order to keep our employees safe and manage the Black Friday crowds, we’ve decided to spread out some deeper item-specific discounts, giveaways, and door-buster deals throughout the coming months. We’re actually celebrating our 20th anniversary since opening day on the weekend of the 12th and 13th, so most of our deals are concentrated around that.”
Over in Southern Pines, River Jack Outdoor Trading Company storefront manager Dana Myers speaks to some of her store’s unanticipated success in the face of national adversity.
“People are rediscovering their appreciation for the outdoor recreation at a level we’ve never seen before. I think it’s a great refuge from the times we’re living in. But, yes, we’ve enjoyed consistent and loyal community support. I mean, we literally sold out of kayaks this summer–” she says, gesturing to a wall of watercraft, stacked densely upon each other like cords of wood. “That never happens.”
Casino Guitar, a boutique music store and architectural relic in Southern Pines, has also enjoyed steady community support. Sean Diesfield, Casino Guitars product specialist, explains how our long-suffering community’s lockdown boredom became a boon for the store.
“Plenty of people used lockdown as an opportunity to pick up a new instrument,” says Diesfield. “At one point, we were running out of guitars. Our online store has been really successful, and it’s great to have something that’s more accessible to at-risk people who don’t feel comfortable shopping indoors. As for now, we’re trying to put together some specials on a lot of our amateur or lower-end guitars for all of the families out trying to find an instrument for their kids.”
Linda Parsons, Moore County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, surmises the severity of the national economic shock in Moore County and offers a few suggestions for the community to ameliorate its effects — while also keeping their safety paramount.
“Other communities where hospitality is a mainstay have been hit much harder,” said Parsons. “We’re pretty resilient, on top of the fact that you can golf at a perfectly safe distance from other people. But the simple reality is, not everybody received CARES Act or PPE money, and the virus isn’t going to disappear on January 1st.
“As a community, we need to continue to rally around our small businesses. As a matter of fact, in November of last year, the Moore County Chamber of Commerce collaborated with American Express to create the hashtag, “#TogetherWeAreMoore”, as part of an initiative to actively support local businesses. This hashtag was embraced by everybody after so many businesses had to shutter their doors in March, which was nothing short of amazing.
“But times are hard, and we understand that. If you’re struggling, there are plenty of other ways you can pitch in — post on social media, use our hashtag, and encourage others to shop local over the holidays. If you’re not comfortable dining in or entering stores, consider buying gift cards, order things for curbside pickup, and checking out our local online storefronts.”
Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Shelby Herbert.