Business owners brace for possible new limitations as COVID-19 cases increase

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The holiday rush is a vital period for many local businesses, one that has taken on increased importance this year after diminished sales. Now, they're contending with increased COVID-19 cases -- causing concerns that customers may stay away or stricter regulations will be implemented.

For The Local Squirrel in Cameron Village, the face-to-face interaction is vital for its business.

"We're very much an experienced-driven store. We're very tactile in here, we want you to touch and feel the products, smell the amazing candles, see the glimmer of the jewelry, you know all of that," said owner and curator Rachael Riddle.

Most of its products are locally-made.

"Being able to share those stories, and have people feel like they get to know our makers -- that's our entire business plan," Riddle said. "We're all about the story, we're all about the connection. So online we can certainly write great descriptions, we can take beautiful photos, we can curate a nice Instagram. But it doesn't translate the same way as having those personal one-on-one conversations."

Riddle did set up an online store earlier this year at the beginning of the pandemic, but acknowledged it does not play to her businesses' strengths. While she's grateful for the support local businesses like hers receive around the holidays, she explained it's important that continues once they pass.

"We see a huge uptick in people wanting to shop with us in October through December, but then January comes and February comes. And for us, there's really not a big gifting holiday until the spring, so continuing to come over -- shop online with us, shop thru Instagram, come in the store, any way that you feel comfortable. I think all the businesses here in Raleigh would just echo that," she said.

Over at Gateway Plaza, the pandemic has put a dent in the number of classes Craft Habit Raleigh can offer.

"We used to do five to six classes a week. Now we do maybe four. We do them on the weekends and do them outdoors, and we're just doing that from October to December while the weather's nice, and we're hoping in January and February we'll do virtual classes," said co-owner Sarah Ferguson.

She explained the difficult situation the pandemic has put business owners in.

"It's terrible to be in a position where we're going to have to choose between being as safe as we want to be and continuing our business," Ferguson said.

She is hopeful a government entity will step up to provide further funding options to small businesses.

"My concerns as a business owner are the same as my concerns as an individual member of the community," she said. "I want my fellow community members to be safe."

While The Local Squirrel and Craft Habit Raleigh could sell products online, that's not an option for enV Salon in Apex.

"We try to get in as many people as we can. This year it's a little bit different because we are at limited capacity so we cannot see as many people as quickly as possible and the last month is when we make a large portion of our revenue. So it's definitely going to be impactful if we do get shut down," co-owner and artistic Director Erica Hester said about the potential for further restrictions or being forced to shut down.

Complicating matters, the business suffered a flood recently, damaging their floors.

"This year has been a whirlwind for us," said Hester.

They are monitoring the evolving situation, and said they are considering selling gift cards to increase revenue if they're unable to stay open. For now, they're open to any ideas to operate safely, and engage with as many customers as possible.

"We're always open to extending our hours, but not only with COVID, we're also in our holiday rush. That's our busiest time of the year," Hester said.

Gov. Roy Cooper acknowledged the concerning metrics after the state saw another record-high number of cases this past weekend, writing on Twitter, "After a steady increase in numbers, we've broken another case record today with 6,018 new cases. We're examining what action may be needed to protect North Carolinians, but we need everyone to wear masks and follow safety measures. Our actions right now are life or death."
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