Local business owners discuss dealing with pandemic

Up until a few weeks ago, local businesses were functioning regularly. When the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended social and physical distancing due to COVID-19, businesses had to adjust accordingly.

“I know as an employee it’s always kinda hard when this is your main income just to know that you might not have that coming in, ” said Kelsey Hickman, an employee at Runaround Running & Fitness. “…If it’s for the betterment of the community and slowing the virus I would definitely support it.”

One thing Joplin Empire Market is doing is a drive-through and pick-up method for the vendors and customers to help keep safe and stay physically distanced during the pandemic.

According to their Facebook page, customers can now place their Saturday Empire Market orders online between Tuesday and Thursday to pick up on Saturdays between 10-12:30 p.m.

Ivy Hagedorn, market coordinator, said that Joplin Empire Market has always strived to be a gathering place.

She said that once the nature of this current crisis became apparent, they realized for the time being they cannot host gatherings.

“But we still wanted to be open to whatever degree we could so that our vendors, some of whom this is their only income, were still able to make a living. And we are a food source.”

Because they are only operating as a food resource right now, they are able to stay open, Hagedorn said. Another thing the Market has done is reduce the number of vendors allowed at the venue.

Other small business owners are also having to adapt to social changes to keep their businesses afloat during this time.

Kristen Radaker Sheafer, owner and head baker of Joplin’s Frosted Cakerie, said that her business has been able to adjust with limited business. She and her husband, Luke Sheafer, work together at the bakery.

Frosted Cakerie is a special-order bakery located in downtown Joplin. Locally known as Frosted, the bakery specializes in customized goods and desserts. Radaker Sheafer said the business is largely event-based, and because of event cancellations or rescheduling, the company has had to adapt its business model.

“…There’s a lot of moving pieces to any business, but it’s much easier to figure out the logistics if you’re just two people sitting in a room trying to figure out what’s gonna work,” Radaker Sheafer said.

“We’re the ones on the front lines with the customers so we know what customers are wanting, so that chain of communication is much easier and more adaptable than larger corporations.”

She said the good thing about being a small business is that it’s much easier to completely adapt your model to keep going.

“You have to be more creative than if you work a 9-5 job you know, as far as making ends meet, you have to be a little more savvy with your money,” Luke Sheafer said. “You work all the time, but you get to choose your work which is the tradeoff.”

While owning a business is a tradeoff to some, according to Jami Patterson, it is important for the community due to the need for products.

Joplin Empire Market has a variety of goods from local vendors, who provide things like produce and butcher products.

Not only does the Market offer food products, but there are also fine arts and crafts, such as jewelers, ceramicists, macramé, live watercoloring, and more.

“For those of us who started the market, we felt it was important to have a place where you could go in, and not just pick up things for your pantry every week, but also pick up wonderful locally made gifts and things for your home,” Hagedorn said.

Though the market hosts many locally made goods, other businesses concentrate on specific items.

Rosa Bella Boutique specializes in formal and wedding attire for both men and women. Jami Patterson’s shop is one of the only Joplin bridal and formal-wear businesses.

“There’s a need for products in the community,” Patterson said. “Business has definitely declined and our main thing is we want to keep everyone safe, so that is why we have made the decision to today be the last day open.”

Patterson closed her business’s doors temporarily on Wednesday, March 25. COVID-19 has caused many businesses to close temporarily or lay off workers to keep the business going.

“It’s just not safe for my employees, myself, my customers; you know we want to keep all of our customers safe as well.”

While businesses might be slowing down, some shop owners are still active and expanding.

Owners of local business Runaround Running & Fitness, Erik and Cathy Bartlett have plans to open another business called Bartlett’s, according to Hickman.

Hickman said that the new store will stock different types of footwear, such as comfort shoes and work boots.

She said she considers small businesses “pillars” of the community and that they help draw people to Joplin, bringing diversity and individuality.

“I feel like we are really important for our community,” said Julie Bollin, owner of Blush Boutique.

Hickman said it’s good to see the community supporting Runaround, since the business has been around approximately 10 years.

“It’s nice to have somebody who is in the community who knows what it is to live here and love it and wants to bring something to Joplin so that’s why I like working downtown,” said Hickman.

For Bollin, her business is her livelihood.

“…This is how I take care of my kids, it means being part of our community, helping out my city. …it’s just something I worked really hard to do,” she said. “We live here, we really put our hearts and souls into having our stores and restaurants because this is how we feed our children, take care of our families.”

Local businesses not only provide families’ livelihoods but also liven up the city streets.

“I know we are trying to be more involved by creating different run groups and things like that…. I know there [are a] lot of different groups around here that my boss supports,” said Hickman.

Bollin said she enjoys when it’s nice outside and people are walking around and families ride bikes together downtown.

“…We had a family stop in…a man and his kids were riding bikes and they stopped in and got some stuff. I feel like a lot of families get out here and walk around and try to support us,” said Bollin. “I feel like we’re the heart of the community down here.”

Patterson said she thinks local businesses are very important because they are what make the community strong and keep going. “We put our heart and soul into our businesses.”

She said businesses have supported each other throughout this pandemic.

“… I think that says a lot about a community, especially all the downtown businesses. … When you network together and help each other it makes a difference and makes you [want to] keep going.”