Inside her unusually empty ice-cream shop, Laura Beckham has a lot of time to think.
"I don't think I do anything but reflect on it," said Beckham, the owner of Berry's Ice Cream in New London. "It has been two months of working by myself every single day. I do see my customers when I take them the food out to the curb, but it has definitely been a lonely two months."
Beckham has been working around the clock to keep her ice cream shop afloat for its seventh season.
"They say after you get past the fifth year as a small business, you know that you have done a really good job and it is likely that you will succeed," said Beckham. "Well, no one threw in COVID-19 to that equation."
When the coronavirus forced businesses across the state to close, Beckham was able to stay open for take-out style ice cream. She changed the way her business operates, serving curbside ice cream and milkshakes. She also saw much higher demand for ice cream cakes, which started to take up most of her focus.
"It gave me something really productive to look forward to and to come in and do," said Beckham, explaining no two of her ice cream cakes look alike. She customizes each cake for the order.
Beckham said that her journey over the last two months has been filled with highs and lows. She has seen extreme generosity from customers, including some who bought gift cards from her to donate to local teachers. Other customers have bought cakes and donated them to other families.
While customers have supported Beckham during the pandemic, her business is hurting. She said that, compared to this time last year, sales are down 80 percent. She recently learned that she was awarded a grant from the City of New London. She has also been approved for the Paycheck Protection Program and a low-interest line of credit for being a woman-owned business.
"When that is funded, then the building owner gets his rent checks," said Beckham. "It means a portion of the electricity bill gets paid which is just mounting. Thank god they are not shutting our electric off because if they did it would be off."
Beckham closed Berry's for the first time during the pandemic this week as she gets ready for the state's phase one reopening. For Beckham, phase one means that she will be able to bring back her staff and serve people on the back deck.
"There is a healthy level of fear mixed with excitement," explained Beckham. "We will figure out this patio situation. We have kind and well-behaved customers that know what we are doing and they get it."
Beckham said that Berry's will be open Wednesday at 1 p.m. with tables arranged for social distancing.
As Beckham and her team move forward with the next uncertain chapter, she said that the customers are her driving force.
"There is absolutely no way after these many days of not having hardly any funding that I would be open if it were not for every single customer that has made the effort and come in," said Beckham.