small business

Niche Businesses Wait for Word on Reopening

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While retail, restaurants, and hair salons are set to open May 20, some small business owners say they feel forgotten.

The state has yet to announce what industries will be included in later phases of the state’s reopening plan or when those phases will start.

“It has totally ceased my business,” said Christina Hart, owner of Foodology Cooking School in the Plantsville section of Southington.

Hart said the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of over 50 events at her business.

“What makes my cooking school fun is for people to be able to come together and cook together,” said Hart who taught both adult and child classes, as well as hosted cooking competitions.

Social distancing guidelines of no groups larger than five have put her business on the back burner.

“It will probably take me up to about a year to recover from what’s already happened and the longer we move this out the harder it’s going to be for me to recover,” she said.

Hart stated that she understood why it might not be safe to reopen in the near future, but added that she would like some direction from the state on when it might be possible for her to do so.

“Even if I knew that I might not be able to start my business back up until September first, at least I know that.  Right now, we’re all just wondering what phase our businesses are going to fall into,” she said.

Losing Patience

 “We all know what we’re dealing with right now and business owners are pretty smart people,” said Denise Rivera, owner of Titanium Theatre Event Hall and Center Stage Entertainment, both in Southington.

Inside her building are several other small businesses that she said are struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.  She said she thinks the state should let the business owners make the call on when to reopen.

“There’s no reason why we cannot as mature adults regulate and follow the guidelines,” said Rivera.

With wedding season starting, she’s anxious to get her business back up and running.

“Every weekend I’m booked.  So, this is a complete nightmare,” she said.

The single mom who has also had trouble applying for unemployment through the PUA system added that she’s frustrated, feeling her like livelihood is an afterthought to those deciding its fate.

“The state of Connecticut has let a lot of people down.  They should be ashamed of themselves,” Rivera said. “Nobody’s getting the help they need from the people that are supposed to be helping us.”

Worries About Reopening

“The waiting game is causing a lot of anxiety,” said Fisele Tyler, the owner of LashBrown Center in Wilton.

Tyler’s lash extension business isn’t essential, but as the sole breadwinner, it is vital to her family.

“It’s been my livelihood for the past ten years and now I am faced with zero income,” she said.

Tyler isn’t exactly in a hurry to come in close contact with her clients and reopen her business on May 20. 

“I personally think that by saying we’re going to open up hair salons at that time left a lot of confusion,” said Tyler, pointing out there’s more to salons than just cutting and coloring hair.

The guidelines laid out left her uncertain about whether she should or even could open.  She can’t and said she wouldn’t want to until more testing is available.

“Testing, testing, testing.  More testing,'' she answered when asked what would make her more comfortable opening her doors. "There are still too many restrictions for anyone to receive a test.”

Niche business owners are feeling fearful about their future.

“Learning that your business is a non-essential that is a very tough term to swallow,” said Barbara Coleman-Hekeler, president of the Southington Chamber of Commerce.  “They feel relevant in being a part of the economic vitality of our community, of our state.”

 “Part of the problem is, there is no direction,” said Hart. “Right now, I feel really really stuck and I just want to feel like I can move forward in some way.”

Coleman-Hekeler said it’s a common concern among members of the Southington Chamber of Commerce.

“They are concerned about what the timing is going to be and whether or not there’s going to be enough preparation time to actually be ready when it comes time to open,” she explained.

 An economic development task force met Monday to come up with reopening guidelines for businesses, including where to seek financial assistance, how to train employees, where to get supplies, and how to come up with a physical plan.  That information is expected to be released Friday.

However, the state’s economic development department declined to be more specific on guidance for these niche businesses waiting for an opening date, pointing concerned businesses to  Economic and Community Development Department spokesperson, Jim Watson, said concerned business owners can send their questions to

Feeling left in the Lurch, Tyler said she’s worried whether her business will even survive the pandemic.

“People just I think don’t know how they are going to make ends meet, pay their rent, feed, their families, they just don’t know,” she said.

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