Businesses Reflect On Operating Through Pandemic

Kelci McKendrick Enid News & Eagle, Okla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Kelci McKendrick shares the stories of several business owners who fearlessly pressed forward with their entrepreneurial dreams despite the turbulence and challenges of the pandemic. 

Enid

Opening or rebranding a store isn't easy, but doing it during a pandemic brought a lot more unknowns into the mix for some Enid business owners.

Carmenia Passey, owner of No. 5 Findings, 218 W. Randolph, wasn't sure if she would be able to pay her rent or utilities after the downtown vintage store changed from Liberty Lynn and Co. to No. 5 Findings in July 2020 when she and her business partner parted ways.

Despite her fears, she pressed forward with her store, using Facebook Marketplace and creating a website in order to help keep her business open while the world was shut down.

"In that timeframe, I just was being positive about it — what will be, will be — and I wanted to just press forward because I love being a part of the community down here," Passey said. "I wanted to prove that I could do it."

Passey's business partner, Sherri Palmer, wanted to stay closer to home in Woodward, so Passey took over the downtown business last summer and changed the name to No. 5 Findings.

In the past, her booths at shops and events were always No. 5, and she likes "to find" vintage items.

She repainted the store and said she's still waiting for something to come along to fill the void in items Palmer created for the store.

Passey said the Enid community allowed small businesses the opportunity to survive, and that she saw an influx of people from bigger cities coming to her store because there was "a little bit more freedom" in stores like No. 5 Findings — especially after everything opened back up again and Enid didn't have a mask mandate until December, which was then rescinded last month.

The right timing Nanci Moore and her daughter Savannah Sommers opened up Sunny Souls Boutique, 102 W. Randolph, in October 2020, several months into the pandemic, after finding success with an online store.

On their first day, the mother-daughter duo didn't have access to Wifi because the internet wire in the basement had been cut. Despite this, their first day went fairly well, Moore said.

The second week the store was open, Sommers gave birth to her son, so the shop was closed for a few days as Moore works full-time at UniFirst.

Sommers' baby got sick a couple weeks later, and the store was again closed for a few days, but the business kept going strong for the duration of its six-month lease, which was recently upped to a couple of years.

"It may take us several more months or a year to get to the very end of that tunnel where it's absolutely 100% light, it wasn't like opening it in February, March or April," Moore said. "Now, the same scenario — had it been earlier in the year, I wouldn't have ever considered it. I would have said, 'No, we'll just keep on doing what we're doing until the time is right,' and the time just ended up being right."

'Location, location, location' Even though The Pastry Nook relocated from the Oakwood Mall to its current spot at 230 W. Randolph in October 2019, five months before the pandemic hit in March, owner Monica Rorick said being downtown helped her business survive.

"That difference between the mall and those first couple of months before the pandemic was night and day," Rorick said. "It still is. Even through the pandemic, we did way better than what we did."

After seeing a lack of customers when the pandemic first began, Rorick adjusted her business, introducing Cookie of the Month and cooking classes, which she said helped the store survive.

Enid Cash Mob "mobbed" a few local stores downtown, including the Pastry Nook, and had a First Friday mob, as well, hitting most of the places downtown.

Passey, who is a few stores down from The Pastry Nook, compared being downtown to being in an outdoor mall.

"Outdoor malls are really in, and we have that already built in — we don't have to bring an outdoor mall to the place," she said. "We already have it here in downtown Enid where you can park and you can walk to different restaurants, eateries, boutiques and different things that are going on downtown."

Having a downtown ally Rorick said having Main Street Enid for support helped, crediting its staff, Natalie Beurlot and Charlet Ringwald, for her success throughout the past year.

She said she doesn't think The Pastry Nook or "any other downtown business would have been able to get through it without them."

Beurlot, the executive director of Main Street, said when the pandemic hit, everyone was searching for answers on how to operate and move forward and that Main Street's board got together to figure out how to help all businesses downtown, whether they were official partners or not.

Main Street's focus in April 2020 switched strictly to business, providing information on and publicizing loans and grants for the businesses.

They partnered with the Enid Regional Development Alliance to provide small business and entrepreneur Zoom training sessions with speakers talking about how to apply for grants and loans, how to get businesses online and how they could use social media effectively.

They also had gift card giveaways for downtown stores, giving away a total $800 in gift cards.

Beurlot said Main Street would update its website with business information such as who was open, whether they were offering curbside services and what COVID-19 guidelines they were following.

Main Street staff would bring new business owners a welcome basket with local items in it, information about Main Street and how to become a partner.

Beurlot said she has "high hopes" for the booming business downtown. First Friday just started again, Cherokee Ranch Land & Cattle Company is joining the downtown area Monday, and Enid Brewing Co. just announced its plans for an AirBnB and recently began hosting Weekends on Maine every third Saturday.

"Downtown is really ... thriving right now," Beurlot said. "There's just something in the air. It just feels like there's stuff going on. There are businesses open. I think people are ready, now that they're getting their vaccines, and people are feeling more comfortable about being out."

Moore said Sunny Souls is planning on opening a salon inside the store. Sommers was in cosmetology school, taking a hiatus after having her son, and plans on finishing to do some work in the future salon, her mother said.

She said when it comes to business, "you just have to roll with it," and Moore has been doing that ever since opening, and even though Sunny Souls opened during the COVID-19 pandemic, it — and Enid — has a bright future, she said.

"The future is just really sunny," Moore said.

___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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