As another statewide shutdown of businesses is still not off the table, many Athens businesses are more confident in their ability to adapt than before.
Many small businesses in Athens are not as concerned about a possible second shutdown due to the incoming influx of students coming back in the spring and the continued commercial support from locals.
During the first shutdown in March, Jo Merkle and Phil Berry, owners of Beads and Things, 8 N. Shafer St., had to go through self-quarantine because they had just gotten back from their winter buying trip. They used their time to reorganize and regroup and were especially happy that their employees could not be downstairs in the shop, which is directly below their apartment, and catch COVID-19 if they brought it back with them, Merkle said.
Beads and Things followed the same COVID-19 safety protocols as hair salons instead of retail stores during the first shutdown because of how small the shop is. It is hard to socially distance, and teaching people how to make jewelry is an invasion of personal space due to the small size of the equipment, Merkle said.
The hardest part has been not being able to have their staff there to help them because they are friends, not only work colleagues, Merkle said.
“We are fortunate that we are not paying rent and we have a good stock,” Merkle said. “If not, we can wait it out. The tough part for me is that we’re used to having a lot of help, and they can’t come back yet. I’m grateful that they’re able to be on unemployment.”
Since the last shutdown of businesses, boutique retail shop Kismet, 19 W. State St., launched a website alongside other retailers so customers could continue to shop even while the stores were closed. In case of another possible shutdown, this website will help keep the business alive, Erica Cash, Kismet sales associate, said.
Business at Kismet is expected to slow down when students go home for Thanksgiving and winter break. They have brought out their Christmas and holiday decorations already because they knew student business will be going down, Cash said.
Artifacts Gallery, 2 W. State St., has been surprisingly busy with student business because of an early holiday rush. Students seem to be doing their holiday shopping before they head back home. Artifacts is getting ready for its business to move slower, which always happens during Ohio University breaks, Darian Knapp, an Artifacts Gallery employee, said.
Even when students are gone there is a steady flow of Athens regulars that help keep Artifacts Gallery’s business alive. It does not have a plan in place for a possible shutdown and is just wanting to feel it out before the business makes any decisions, Knapp said.
Dave Smart, owner of Smart’s Barbershop, 23 W. Washington St., has a mix of both Athens residents and student customers. He finds that a lot of students who come in found him on Google after they saw his ratings.
Smart spends around 45 minutes a night cleaning for the next day. During the day, he spends 30 minutes cleaning in between clients, because he wants each to feel like they are walking into a safe place. However, the issue that he is finding is that people are still feeling skittish about going into a closed environment around something they don’t know very well, Smart said.
“We prepare for the closures during the summer when we can ride through and make sure we have enough cash flow or savings to cover everything when business is slower,” Smart said. “We had to use all that during to cover our businesses when we shut down for almost three months. So in my opinion, the small businesses … have used up their surplus of money.”
But even with a possible shutdown ahead, Smart is positive about the future. He is excited for more students to return back to campus in the Spring Semester.
“I am also looking forward to the positive influences of what students do to the town … When you see people moving on the streets and you see activity, people are smiling a lot more, they’re happier,” Smart said. “I’m really looking forward to the positive attitude and upbeat students coming back on campus are going to bring, because they mean so much to us.”