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How Three Local Businesses Are Surviving During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Abbi Ross Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Abbi Ross reports, "From changing practices to watching fellow businesses shut their doors, the pandemic has taken a toll on many River Valley entrepreneurs."  These are the stories of some of the small business owners making their way through.

Fort Smith

Ben and Tonya Storie opened their counseling and coaching practice, Relationship Solutions, about nine months before the start of the pandemic.

"This has been a really tiring, exhausting, exciting two years," Ben Storie said.

Storie and his wife worked 16 hour days at the beginning of the pandemic while trying to find ways to fit their business into the new world around them. The new business owners had to find the best way to offer virtual counseling and keep their staff safe.

"You just have to learn to adapt," said Mike Nichols, who owns a professional glass cleaning service. Nichols, who has been in business since the 1990s, started offering no-contact cleaning as well as residential services.

The start of the pandemic put The Window Guys on hold as the commercial cleaning Nichols did for businesses like KFC and Subway was no longer needed.

His work was at a standstill for weeks, but once it picked back up it "came in like a flood," said Nichols, who runs the business with the help of his two sons.

"Between the three of us and the family, we work all day, every day," Nichols said. He now does the residential work while his sons handle commercial work for businesses throughout the city.

"For years and years, I only made 'X' amount and in six months we surpassed that," Nichols said. From July-December 2020, Nichols company saw an almost 30% increase in revenue. He said similar companies also have seen additional customers and are often booked six to eight weeks out as well.

The increase in the need for services has affected more than just the cleaning industry. Relationship Solutions has seen an increase in those interested in its services. Storie said they are seeing 20-25 calls a week from people inquiring about counseling.

"Life before the pandemic was really hard for a lot of us...and then you add the uncertainty of COVID and the isolation of quarantine and then the anxiety that comes from," Storie said.

It has taken a toll on people, he said.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study from August 2020 reported around 40% of adults surveyed as having had at least one mental health or behavioral health condition issue related to the pandemic.

While many in the region have returned to some sort of normalcy — or embraced a new one — some businesses are still waiting to see a return to what once was.

Kim Shankle, owner of I Believe Boutique in Van Buren, said people are not spending like they used to. "It's not like the years before," Shankle said.

Business has increased in recent months but there is no way for Shankle to know what people will want right now.

"It's scary, you go to market and want to buy what you think people will buy, but it's hard to know these days," she said.

Watching businesses throughout the region try to grasp the new normal that has been thrust upon them has taken a toll on the locally-owned community.

"It was heartbreaking seeing doors close," Nichols said.

Storie mentioned the importance of business owners taking time to take care of themselves and their team while trying to navigate working during the pandemic.

"At some point, I realized I really have to start focusing on my own self-care," Storie said. "This doesn't look like it's ending any time soon and I've got to stay healthy so I can support my team."

___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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