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Businesses press on, despite coronavirus challenges

It’s been about two weeks since local business owner Landis Pinkham made the tough decision to close the doors of Cottage Junkies to the public. But even as the storefront closed, the business has found new ways of reaching its customers via online shopping and delivery.

“We are basically posting our inventory online; we are getting the invoices shipped out that way. That way customers can feel like they’re a part of us, as well as us connecting with them,” Pinkham said. “Although they can’t come in the stores due to the coronavirus, we’re still working, just behind closed doors.”

Pinkham is one of a growing number of local business owners having to rethink how they do business to protect employees and customers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the stay-at-home order that went into effect Monday, Cottage Junkies is no longer doing curbside pickup, but is offering delivery on its inventory.

“It’s definitely going to have an impact, not just now, but in the future,” Pinkham said of the new arrangements. “We’re trying to stay positive in this new season. Everyone is trying to pull and rally together. We will come back stronger than ever, like we always do. It’s just a little different right now.”

In Belhaven, the doors are still open at Riddick and Windley Hardware. Under the stay-at-home order, hardware stores are considered an essential business, and store owner Ben Johnson says he and his employees are working to meet their customers needs while protecting public health.

“We’ve taped off, especially at the registers, six-foot boundaries,” Johnson said. “We try to be vigilant in washing our hands, and we’re running very low on hand sanitizer. We seem to use it after every customer. We’ve also discontinued public use of our restrooms to keep us safe and have a sanctuary at the back of the store.”

Like many places, the business is seeing shortages of certain items such as toilet paper, paper towels and hand soap. But at the same time, Johnson says the store has seen a major uptick in sales of other items as well.

“We’re being more strategic in what we’re ordering,” Johnson said. “We’re seeing a run on lawn and garden and do-it-yourself home projects while people are going to be quarantined. Projects that probably gone forgotten or put on the backburner are now something to do while the stay-at-home order is in effect.”

In the broader business community, Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce Director Catherine Glover says her organization is trying to push out information on resources available to help small business owners. She’s also trying to encourage businesses through hard times.

“I don’t think you can underestimate how hard this is on all of our businesses,” Glover said. “But I do think the future is going to be really great, because when those businesses do open again, I think everybody in the community will be ready to support them at all cost. What we’ve all missed is our ‘regular.’ We miss our businesses, we miss people, and we miss being in people’s presence. I think it will be a whole new world when that starts, and I think we’ll all have a new perspective too.”

Important information regarding resources available for small businesses can be found online at www.sba.gov and www.wbcchamber.com. The Beaufort County Community College Small Business Center, in partnership with the Chamber, is also hosting a series of online workshops to help local business owners navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. A full list of upcoming workshops can be found at www.ncsbc.net by selecting training and the Beaufort County Community College SBC option.