On The Rebound: How These Small Businesses Are Finding Renewed Purpose in a COVID-19 Environment

In our new series we spotlight a handful of small business owners across the country dealt a crippling hand by the COVID-19 pandemic and their next steps to right the course

What's the next move? What's the right step? For small business owners looking to pivot and keep their businesses afloat those are just two of countless critical decisions that will mean the difference between survival or shuttering their doors for good.

In our series 'Rebound,' we spotlight a handful of small business owners across the country dealt a crippling hand by the COVID-19 pandemic and the steps they are taking to right the course. Here are their stories.

Fixing a Smelly Problem

Street trash. Of the many, many issues Jeannine Cook, the proprietor of Harriet's Bookshop in Philadelphia, thought she'd be forced to deal with keeping her business afloat amid a pandemic, coping with rising mounds of smelly street trash probably wouldn't have been one of them. But she wouldn't been wrong.

"For a few weeks... and folks who are from Philly don't know.... but Philly's, been having a really bad trash issue," says Cook. Bought on largely because of COVID-19, there was a period of time where trash went largely uncollected in the city. Not ideal to be sure. But for Cook it struck at the very heart of her plan to pivot her business outdoors.

"Now, mind you, we do a sidewalk sale. We're the only business on this entire block that does a sidewalk sale," says Cook. "But having, like mounds and mounds of people's trash there, including our own, is very problematic."

Would you want to shop for books in the middle of a heap of smelly garbage? Probably not. But Cook was undeterred. Garbage in a sealed can is better than garbage festering on the street. So Cook went out and purchased garbage cans for many of her neighbors.

"I got like Oprah with it. Everybody get a trash can. 'You get a trash can. You got a trash can.' You get the whole block," she said.

Cook says even when her doors officially reopen she plans to continue the sidewalk sales because they've not only been beneficial to her business, but actually kept her store alive.

With a Side of Dumplings

You like dumplings? Of course you do. Who doesn't like a good dumpling? That may explain why Stratis Morfogen, executive managing director of the Brooklyn Chop House, saw an opportunity and pivoted into opening up a new restaurant, the Brooklyn Dumpling House. (Don't worry... the chop house isn't going anywhere.)

"The dumpling shop, the business plan I wrote, it was more like Amazon. You would get a really basic B.S. locker. You could order it from your phone," he says. "But when you picked it up there would be staff there and guiding you. But you're actually just going to a locker."

Morfogen says the new business is equipped with state of the art safety equipment like UV lighting to ensure customers an meal free of anxiety.

"It's incredible. This version of my vision, I never would've dreamed that it would look like this. And it's so right with the time," he says.

"You know what? It seems scary out there. But if you're going to open a restaurant, you're going open a retail store the time to do it is now because I believe the vaccine is on its way," says Morfogen. And at the end of the day, this stuff is gonna work. We're gonna get through this."

A Renewed Purpose

Dwayne Pean, co-founder of Next Step Training in Weston, Fla , said despite the pandemic having a near catastrophic impact on their bottom line, there was never any thought of closing their doors.

"It's a movement. It's a way of thinking. If you take away that type of thinking and that mindset of being able to persevere during tough times and that's the end of your testimony, then then really you've just kind of you've kind of given up on why you're doing what you're doing," he said.

Even as they struggled to stay afloat, Pean and his company found a renewed sense of purpose following the death of George Floyd.

"We just made our kids aware of what was going on and we wanted to be sensitive to their parents as well. So we didn't want to undermine what they're saying, but also we needed to, as a Black-owned business, just give them perspectives of things that have happened to us in the past and just how we have to change this mindset and get out of this systematic racism," he said. "It's not like racism all of a sudden just it just came up. It's just finally getting recorded."

ABOUT REBOUND: COVID-19 has impacted every facet of our lives. For small business owners, those impacts are even greater. To better tell those stories, we decided to launch a series about how small businesses are faring throughout the coronavirus. But a raging pandemic presents some obstacles for traditional journalism. Business restrictions, reduced hours of operation, and social distancing guidelines have changed how journalists tell their stories.
So we flipped the script.
We identified six small businesses across America and supplied them with a camera. In REBOUND, these businesses take you behind the scenes during COVID-19, to show you just how much things have changed throughout the pandemic. REBOUND tells the stories of these small businesses and how they are bouncing back from an unforeseen pandemic