Gwen Roden

Gwen Roden from the Marine General Store. Roden said the business actually did quite well during the pandemic, despite some supply issues. 

COVID-19 threw a wrench into everyone’s lives, but the impact on small business was devasting 

Or was it? Were there businesses that flourished? Or, maybe, with the new mandates businesses had to do to survive, maybe they’ve seen greater results than expected. 

To get perspective from different fields of industry, the Messenger sent out questionnaires on that topic. Responses came from Robyn Dochterman from St. Croix Chocolate, Bjorn Hagstrom from Whatmoves Design, LLC, Gwen Roden from Marine General Store and Lynne Moratzka from Gammelgarden. 

Just how bad did it get? 

“During the ‘panic phase’ early into the Pandemic, customers we have never seen came in and purchased everything off our shelves – whole cases,” explained Roden. “And for a small store like us, resupply was a week away (at minimum – hoping our suppliers could restock us). Although it kept our cash flow in the positive, it was hard to tell our regular customers that we were unable to provide them with their needs.” 

Dochterman feared the worst as well during the early stages. 

“The worst part was the very beginning when everything went dark all at once,” she said. “I had no idea how we were going to weather this challenge. I turned to Deidre (Pope, co-owner) and said, ‘This might be the end’.” 

Loneliness became the problem for Moratzka and the rest of Gammelgarden’s staff. 

“Well, for all of us at Gammelgarden, the hardest part was being without the personal interactions and seeing long time customers/supporters,” she said. 

It was just the opposite for Hagstrom. 

“I was lucky,” he said. “Business was great. My biggest challenge was finding the time to work, while also spending a good chunk of my day doing remote learning with our two elementary-age kids.”

How COVID-19 affected their businesses 

Hagstrom stayed busier than most. 

“I actually noticed an uptick in interest in 2020 and have had a very busy past year,” he said. “There’s obviously been a big shift to remote and digital, and some of that has trickled down to my small website design business.” 

Roden concurred. 

“Our business actually did well,” she said. “When the larger stores’ shelves were empty, people came to the smaller stores to find their necessities. And many people didn’t want to expose themselves to larger crowds, so they shopped local (and found we not only had more product available but are willing to cater to them!).”

Dochterman said her priority shifted to online like similar businesses. 

“We did a pretty robust online business,” she said. “That sounds great, and it certainly kept us afloat. But suddenly, you don’t need counter people. You need shipping boxes and tape – at the same time that everyone else needs shipping boxes and tape, but shipping box and tape vendors are shut down, too.”

Moratzka expanded more on the loneliness factor. 

“The hardest part was accepting the reality that the museum would need to be shut down for the early part of our season…no classes, no events, no celebrations, so shoppers…NO PEOPLE to interact with and then, the desire to support our staff and their well-being…emotionally and financially.”

 

Coming next week: How business had to change and what surprised them during the pandemic 

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