‘It’s going to be hard’: Columbia business closes amid COVID-19 as others work to survive

‘It’s going to be hard’: Columbia business closes amid COVID-19 as others work to survive

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been over two months since Governor McMaster allowed restaurants and retail stores to open their doors again

However, for many businesses trying to navigate reopening and adhering to the new guidelines hasn’t been easy.

Some business owners said they are faring better than others. The owner of Mediterranean Café in Lexington said, thanks to loyal customers, his sales are high and he’s encouraged for what the future holds. Meanwhile, other business owners, such as the owner of Uptown Gifts in Columbia said it’s time to say goodbye.

For over a decade, Uptown Gifts has helped customers ring in celebrations from birthdays to baby showers to graduations.

“Thirteen years ago right at this time, we were getting ready to open,” Martha Studstill, the owner of Uptown Gifts, said.

However, Studstill said their doors will close permanently after Friday.

“It’s going to be hard not to see people you’ve celebrated with them. All of these happy occasions, the babies, and the weddings and the birthdays, you get to celebrate with them and I’ll really miss that,” Studstill said.

She said the decision to reopen compared to the financial strain of not was a difficult one due to the health risk for her and her employees. She said as a small business, there’s been a lot of uncertainty and she wishes the state or federal government had more cohesive policies for small businesses, especially when it comes to mandatory mask policies.

“For the safety of myself, my employees, and my customers, I was not going to open without a mask ordinance and we’ve had no leadership on that on the state level or the federal level.”

She’s not the only business owner who hasn’t been happy with some of the measures taken after reopening. A survey by the Small Business for America’s Future found that 81% of business owners felt lawmakers don’t understand the needs of small businesses.

Yet, some business owners said they are happy with the way leaders reopened the economy.

“It’s been challenging. It’s been good though,” Azmi Jebali, the owner of the Mediterranean Café, said.

Jebali said that his customers’ loyalty, as well as getting creative with his business model for carryout, allowed his restaurant to thrive over the last few months.

“We need to do business. We can’t close the country and all businesses, but we have to do it safely,” Jebali said.

Otis Rawl, the president of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, said the biggest concern he’s been hearing from businesses is the fear of having to reclose if the number of cases continues to rise in South Carolina.

It’s a fear shared by business owners in Columbia as well. Kristian Niemi, the owner of Black Rooster and Bourbon, said that the cost of repeatedly opening and closing is so great that many businesses most likely won’t survive if they have to do it.

Niemi said he believes leaders reopened the economy too quickly and has opted to remain closed until the number of cases in South Carolina goes down.

Governor Henry McMaster stressed in a news conference on July 10 he has no plans to shut down the economy again in South Carolina.

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