TNT Kountry Krafts and Boutique manager Ashley Pille in front of her downtown Seward story. Photo provided by Faith Trempala.
By K. Faith Trempala
The COVID-19 pandemic led to financial challenges for many local businesses, but the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership put plans in place to help them survive.
“We served anybody in Seward County and also reached out to other nearby counties to collaborate with, as we did everything we could to just keep the doors open and the lights on in these small businesses,” said SCCDP President and CEO Jonathan Jank. “We have
been so fortunate to weather this storm.”
Many small businesses were affected by this pandemic but managed to recover as it dragged on for more than a year. Some had to let employees go because they could not afford to keep them or struggled with cash flow. Some shut down because they could not meet pandemic-related health measures, such as social distancing, mask mandates and hand washing. Safety concerns remain as businesses try to recover.
“Consumers oftentimes simply didn’t feel safe going out to shop.” Jank said.
Businesses responded by changing hours, offering curb-side pickup and emphasizing online shopping so customers would feel safe.
“Kudos to our local small businesses for their resiliency,” Jank said. The SCCDP also launched programs to help local businesses survive.
The Triple Impact Match Events, or TIME program, had a significant effect on small businesses. It used money from local governments and other organizations to match gift card and gift certificate sales, allowing businesses a chance to triple the value of each sale.
“I am super proud and grateful to be a part of that program.” Jank said. “It helped local businesses so much.”
Overall, although our local businesses were very negatively affected by the pandemic as sales and revenue were lower, there also was a silver lining.
“It gave these employers an opportunity for innovation.” Jank said.
TNT Kountry Krafts and Boutique manager Ashley Pille said the pandemic reduced business volume.
“We didn’t have as much foot traffic as we usually do,” Pille said. “We shut down for a small period of time, but we used that period to boost our online presence . It takes a while to grow a website and to get the word out about it, so that was a work-in-progress at the time.”
TNT also offered in-town delivery and curbside, contactless pick-up. Pille used the slower-paced days to broadcast live-sales, and to build a stronger online presence. She said the community can help small businesses by coming in and shopping or buying online.
Leigha Meyers, a sophomore at Concordia University Nebraska, started Leigha Loops about 10 months ago. Her business is only online but she is getting new orders every day. She makes hand-made ear muffs, winter head beanies, scrunchies, hair scarves and coffee sleeves.
“I started Leigha Loops because my grandma taught me how to crochet and it’s something I’ve grown to love,” Meyers said. “I was so bored just sitting around during the pandemic, and crocheting is something that helps me feel productive.”
Although her business is doing well now, it struggled early in the pandemic. Sales fell, and Meyers lost the traction she had been building. Since some restrictions have been lifted, and students are back onto campus, Leigha Loops is on the road to recovery.
Jonathan Jank, CEO of the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership. Photo provided by Jonathan Jank.