Home Trading business New business owners ‘make it work’ during pandemic | Chicago News

New business owners ‘make it work’ during pandemic | Chicago News

0

Bethany Barbouti, left, and Jackie MacCartie opened Eco & the Flamingo this year in Lincoln Square. (Courtesy of Barbouti)

Starting a business during a pandemic sounds like a gamble, but it’s a gamble some intrepid entrepreneurs are willing to take.

Reflecting on their dreams for a retail store in 2019 in a notebook covered in whimsical pink flamingos, Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie, who operate Eco and the flamingo in Lincoln Square, discussed all kinds of concerns.

They thought about customer demographics, consumer demand, business spending and competition. But they never imagined that a pandemic would put a damper on their plans.

The business owners signed a two-year lease in January for space at 4750 N. Rockwell St. for their zero-waste general store that allows customers to bring in their clean and used containers and fill them with a variety of bulk items, from various organic foods to spices to soaps.

“We entered our space on March 1, then on March 15 the whole world stopped,” Barbouti said. “We were like ‘What are we going to do?’ We just decided that we already bought inventory and we have a lease, we’re just going to go ahead and make it work.

Making it work – or getting to work on a new venture – seems like what a lot of people are doing. Some, like Barbouti and MacCartie, may have worked on a business before. Others may choose to start a new business after losing their job.

Either way, government data shows business license applications are on the rise despite the pandemic. The US Census Bureau reports that as of November 7, there were 80,820 enterprise apps nationwide, an increase of 30.6% over the previous year. In Illinois, the number was 2,017, an increase of 30.9% from 2019.

  • Inside Eco & the Flamingo as it moved into a new, larger space.  (Courtesy of owners Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie)

    Inside Eco & the Flamingo as it moved into a new, larger space. (Courtesy of owners Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie)

  • Inside Eco & the Flamingo in Lincoln Square.  (Courtesy of owners Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie)

    Inside Eco & the Flamingo in Lincoln Square. (Courtesy of owners Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie)

  • Inside Eco & the Flamingo in Lincoln Square.  (Courtesy of owners Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie)

    Inside Eco & the Flamingo in Lincoln Square. (Courtesy of owners Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie)

  • Inside Eco & the Flamingo in Lincoln Square.  (Courtesy of owners Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie)

    Inside Eco & the Flamingo in Lincoln Square. (Courtesy of owners Bethany Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie)

  • Inside StretchLab in Willowbrook.  (Courtesy of Jay Aldrich)

    Inside StretchLab in Willowbrook. (Courtesy of Jay Aldrich)

  • Inside StretchLab in Willowbrook.  (Courtesy of Jay Aldrich)

    Inside StretchLab in Willowbrook. (Courtesy of Jay Aldrich)

  • Inside StretchLab in Willowbrook.  (Courtesy of Jay Aldrich)

    Inside StretchLab in Willowbrook. (Courtesy of Jay Aldrich)

One of the first steps Barbouti and MacCartie took as new business owners was to alter some of their carefully laid plans. They had planned to open on April 22 – Earth Day. They pushed that date back to May 7 and only opened online orders, which worked for them because construction on their space wasn’t finished and installations were delayed due to the pandemic.

As hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the country have closed due to the pandemic, some, like Eco & the Flamingo, have opened, and business owners have learned that running a business in one of the country’s worst health crises requires flexibility.

It’s a lesson Kendall Griffin and his wife, Aisha Griffin, have taken to heart since opening their business, Afro Joe coffee and tea at 8344 S. Halsted Ave. in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood five weeks ago.

Their business, which offers coffee, pastries, salads and sandwiches, had been under construction for four years and construction had already begun on their space when the pandemic hit.

“We were so far, we had to move on,” Kendall Griffin said. “The hardest thing was not knowing what’s going to happen from week to week.”

When Afro Joe’s opened last month, 40% occupancy was allowed for restaurant patrons. Now indoor dining is banned and the business relies on online ordering and curbside pickup.

“It becomes very efficient because they literally drive up and we deliver their food to them,” Griffin said.

Even though the company is new, Griffin has already changed some of his plans and is adjusting to things he didn’t expect.

“Because of COVID, we’re serving a lot more food than I thought, so I’m considering making a capital investment in kitchen equipment,” he said.

Unfortunately, he has not yet been able to find grants to help him make this investment.

Both Griffin and Barbouti said one of the downsides of being a new business in 2020 is that neither has been able to access any of the COVID-19 relief grants such as the federal government. Paycheck Protection Program Where Economic Disaster Loans that cater to businesses that existed before the pandemic.

Jay Aldrich, owner of StretchLabanother company that got its start during the pandemic said it was able to secure a very small PPP loan to cover payroll expenses for its storefront franchise at 50 63rd St. in Willowbrook.

Jay Aldrich, owner of StretchLab in Willowbrook.  (Courtesy of Aldrich)Jay Aldrich, owner of StretchLab in Willowbrook. (Courtesy of Aldrich)

Stretch Lab, which offers one-on-one deep stretching, had planned to open in March. This was delayed until June 1, and the company began its first month by limiting usage to members only rather than accepting dropins.

“We wanted to control the flow of people coming in,” said Aldrich, who added that the pandemic has spurred demand for their services from people who aren’t moving as much as they used to and are feeling the effects.

“They’re getting what I call COVID tight,” Aldrich said. “They are often seated. They have tight hips, hamstrings, and sloping shoulders from hunched over their keyboard or phone.

His business offers one-on-one attention, which has helped him weather the pandemic, he said.

“My concept is sort of COVID-resistant,” he said. “Because it’s one-on-one and because the client knows it’s a date and there won’t be 50 strangers mingling.”

A subscription costs $149 per month or more, depending on length and frequency of visits.

Like Aldrich, Barbouti said the pandemic meant they had to change some of their plans. But it also helped in some ways.

Demand for cleanliness has been high during the pandemic, which Barbouti said had customers asking for soap. Her store sold 30 gallons of different types of soap in the first month it was open, helping the store achieve its first modest goal of earning enough money to cover rent and having a bit more. to reinvest in new products.

The store’s inventory has grown, and in September it moved to an adjoining space, which is double the size of its previous 1,000 square foot store.

Barbouti said many people in the neighborhood frequent his store because they want to support small businesses and because they want to stay healthy.

“You could say soap saved us,” Barbouti said.

Annemarie Mannion is a freelance contributor to WTTW News.