Claremore business owners are quick to admit that the last few months have been rough. But they’re also quick to share, not only how they coped with the challenges presented by COVID-19, but how they’ve innovated and overcome.
Crystal Campbell, a local property developer and landlord of the commercial Cornerstone Building, says that people haven’t stopped building, and that the businesses that rent her space have made the most of every opportunity.
“As a landlord, we weren’t open to any federal funds, so we had to rely on the businesses to go after the funds that were there,” Campbell said. “Most of our renters, we talked to them early on and they were talking to their bankers. Most people have taken provisions to protect themselves … Businesses took advantage of what was out there and available.”
“From a landlord’s perspective, if a business was already kind of hurting, yeah, it probably did impact them, but I will tell you, the ones that were really creative and found ways to still continue business even though they were closed, those have actually flourished.”
J. Farleys switched to curbside take-out and never closed their kitchen.
They also never lost their confidence, Owner James Franklin said, because of overwhelming community support.
“As small as we are, we are tight-knit community,” Franklin said. “We all look out for each other and take care of each other.”
Early on in the take-out only process, J. Farley’s began serving daily specials. The special for Saturdays was five burger baskets for $20.
“I’m the CFO, I’m a money guy, so I was worried about our profit margin,” Franklin said, recounting a conversation he had with co-owner Chris Hayes. “He looked at me, and he and I had been friends for 27 years, we’re like brothers, and he said, ‘It’s not always about that.’”
The first Saturday the phone rang from 10:45 a.m. when they opened to long past closing time at 8 p.m.
They served 950 hamburgers.
“It was non-stop, and it did my heart good,” Franklin said.
When the restaurant was forced to close, they made the tough decision to furlough 15 employees. They took that decision to their team, and most of the team members who left volunteered to do so. Almost all of them came back when the restaurant reopened, with the exceptions of those who found other opportunities while they were away.
There was a small change in the cleaning schedule, increasing the frequency of disinfecting door handles.
“We didn’t have to amp it up much at all, because we were already there,” Franklin said, indicating that menus and pens were already cleaned after each use.
“As soon as we were able to open our doors again to the public, we were right back where we were before,” Franklin said. “We’ve been extremely blessed and fortunate to have such good business and good customers … our community has taken care of us. I feel so honored that they have.”
Live music and karaoke are back on, and J.Farleys is not requiring servers or customers to wear masks, even though they are taking other precautions like daily temperature checks and preventative days off for employees who come in contact with a confirmed positive case.
Like J. Farley’s many specials, other businesses responded to closures by creating secondary revenue streams or finding new ways to meet customer needs.
“Fabulash offered facial kits to people who couldn’t make it in when they had to close,” Campbell said. “They were able to still sell products and continue business, it just looked a little different for a while.”
“There were people in NeMar, there were people downtown, there were people in the Cornerstone, the ones that decided that they weren’t going to give in and close down found different revenue streams they didn’t even know they had,” Campbell said. “Some salons had box color you could buy or care packages.”
Across town on Main street, Bailey Robinson , co-owner of Crooked Roots with partner Adrienne Bethel, echoed that sentiment in how their business responded and adapted to COVID-19.
“It has been all about flexibility, positivity, and not letting the situation make you feel completely defeated,” Robinson said. “I really feel like we were able to turn it into an opportunity instead of a total downside.”
Crooked Roots put items from their in-person gift shop online.
“We had never had time to look into and on-line gift-shop before, and it was quarantine that gave us the time to get everything online and start selling things,” Robinson said. “Even though our shop wasn’t open, and even though all of our weddings were pushed to later dates, we were able to sell plants and gift shop products, bundle them up and leave them on people’s doorsteps.”
Robinson it was a great opportunity to expand and remind people about their business, which is in it’s second year.
“There is never a good time to start a business, ever,” Campbell said. “It’s never easy to be a small business owner. Everybody says you get to be your own boss, but its 24/7. There is always something going on.”
“You have to be brave enough to push forward,” Campbell said, clarifying her belief that fear is linked to many of the world’s current hardships. “We really need to practice that fear is our enemy, not our neighbor. We can’t be so scared that we don’t open up conversations and we can’t be so scared to fail that we don’t try.”