JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania – Drawing on her knowledge of community development work, Mary Lee Stotler designed a five-year business plan before opening Mayapple Marketplace in March 2017.
Stotler knew the start would be “difficult”, but the company “was on the right track each of these years”.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic – the closures, the loss of revenue, the uncertainty.
Now, as March 2022 approaches, Stotler expects to soon reopen her general trade store, located on Lincoln Highway in Stoystown – rather than hit the five-year point of what she envisioned as a plan successful businessman.
“I don’t know if we’ll start from scratch when we reopen, but it certainly set us back,” Stotler said.
Mayapple Marketplace closed in March 2020, only opening for a brief period later that year and again for the 2021 holiday season.
“It just reinforced the idea that you can’t really know what’s going to happen,” Stotler said. “You think you’ve got it all planned out, but the best-laid plans go astray. We’re trying to find creative ways to get it back on track and make it happen.
The business will not be the same when it reopens.
Trivia and open-mic nights and birthday parties were previously held at the store. But, Stotler said, “I just don’t see that happening in the future. It will be different. It’s going to have to be a different way of doing things. »
For herself, her family and all of Stoystown, Stotler wants to try again.
“I have a huge investment here,” Stotler said. “I can’t leave. and that’s something that’s really close to my heart. One of the lessons I have learned from my time in community development is that people in the region need to invest in their community if they want their community to survive. It has to be local. »
The story of Mayapple Marketplace is similar to that of countless small town businesses affected by the pandemic.
Those who survive the best have found ways to adapt.
For example, in June 2019, Becky Bodenschatz opened Sandy Johns in the Ebensburg mini-mall, selling women’s clothing, accessories and flowers. But, when the pandemic disrupted the fashion industry, it focused only on flowers and plants.
During the transition, Bodenschatz was “a bit worried about how my business would survive due to no open storefront or a change in service, things like that.
“But the community grew and they really used my website online and they helped place orders for other people or order gift cards,” she said. “So I was pleasantly surprised by the community support I had seen in my small business. and just talking to other small businesses here, there seems to be a consensus that the community has really supported our small businesses here locally throughout the pandemic and hopefully weather the pandemic.
Sandy Johns is now offering flower arranging lessons and boxes for creating your own bouquets – with an increase in online orders.
“The pandemic has almost caused business owners to think outside the box a bit,” Bodenschatz said. “It put a challenge on our plate that we didn’t really expect, a little twist in things. I felt like it made me a better business owner because of planning for the unexpected, how to adapt to such fast-paced times.
“Supply chain disruption”
Several local agencies, including the St. Francis University Small Business Development Center and Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ Southern Alleghenies Group, have been working to help small town businesses during the pandemic.
“A common thread between all companies is that they have had to make adjustments,” said Jose Otero, portfolio manager at Southern Alleghenies. “Anyone who offers a product must understand how to appropriate their supplies through different channels that they were not used to. It’s a buzzword for the last six or eight months of “supply chain disruption.” ”
Otero said the most successful companies were those that “pivoted and were proactive about moving their presence digitally.”
He said: “Small businesses had to hit a budget they weren’t used to. That’s where it’s kind of a blessing in disguise. They haven’t paid attention to those things that matter or the earning potentials if they weren’t forced to. and now that they’re being forced into it, a lot of these companies that have been forced to see their sales go up, or their revenues go up because of this cost structure of having this brick and mortar have gone down, or they’ve been able to sub-contract to less expensive material supply for their products.
Terry Anderson, business consultant at the St. Francis Center, said “many businesses are now adapting to a new business model.”
“Before COVID, they relied on customers being in their store, buying directly from them,” Anderson said. “A lot of them have had to switch to selling online. They’re still embracing that and trying to continue as a way to somehow increase the revenue streams they can generate.
Anderson said a fresh perspective on priorities will also be needed moving forward.
“One of the things we’ve talked to a lot of companies about is contingency planning,” Anderson said. “The pandemic has caught many businesses off guard. Most emergencies tend to catch small businesses off guard. and they are not prepared.
“This one was particularly bad because usually weather-related or a fire or something like that, it can’t necessarily shut down the business for as long as it’s been shut down during the pandemic and then has to adapt to the rules to be able to reopen.”