Getting Answers: businesses reflect on pandemic struggles | News


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(WGGB/WSHM) — As we approach the month of March, we are reflecting on the last two years, living in a pandemic. For the third part of our COVID: Two Years Later series, we check in with some people in the business community, including one shop owner coming face-to-face with almost losing everything and starting over.

“A million things were running through my head. It was traumatic,” said Kate Gourde, owner of Cooper’s Gifts in Agawam.

Two years ago, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States and Gourde feared for her business.

“I was absolutely terrified. I didn’t know what was going to happen, if my business would survive, when we would be allowed to reopen,” Gourde added.

She had to lay off all seven of her employees. It was a phone call she never wanted to make.

“I was extremely emotional, definitely crying, just very scared. It was a whole new world and no one knew what was coming next,” Gourde noted.

For 85 days, the doors of Cooper’s Gifts were closed. With no staff, Gourde had to run her business alone and tried anything to keep the lights on.

“I did not take a single day off. I worked 85 days straight, trying to sell anything and everything that I could. I was beyond exhausted and running on fumes, but I felt like I had no choice,” Gourde explained.

She said her family really started to worry about her health.

“My husband was really very, very concerned about me. He was afraid I was going to have some kind of an emotional breakdown. My kids were worried about me. I lost an awful lot of weight,” Gourde said.

Gourde started an online store, turned to curbside pickup, and even made some deliveries on her own, but in the end, she said she proved to herself what she was capable of.

“It was something that I don’t want to have to go through again, but now, I know that I can do it. You learn how to pivot, I got really good at dancing,” Gourde said.

Other businesses also had to learn to pivot during the pandemic, especially local restaurants.

“It was a very tricky situation…something we’ve never seen in restaurants before,” said Nicholas MacKay, restaurant manager at The Crest Room.

MacKay started working at The Crest Room in West Springfield as a cook, but quickly moved up the ranks. He was promoted to restaurant manager just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and soon, he would have to work every position.

“It’s really taken a toll, averaging as manager 60, 70 hours a week due to just being understaffed,” MacKay added.

The pandemic forced them to close their doors and shorten employee’s hours.

“Definitely, there were some big layoffs…They thought they were going to be working their regular five days a week, 40 hours and they would go down to either 15 hours or unemployed,” MacKay explained.

The Crest Room opened in September 2019, so they were only open for about six months when the pandemic hit. While most restaurants were already established, The Crest Room employees had to get creative to promote their business and make it work for new customers.

“A lot of customers were scared to come out and they didn’t want to sit inside and be around other people…Delivery is really what probably saved us,” MacKay added.

They quickly upgraded their takeout service and added a delivery driver. They then opened their backyard up to outdoor dining and live music. They made sure they increased their sanitation protocols and have employees wear masks to make their customers felt safe.

“Things like that is what still kept us going through everything,” MacKay said.

In Southwick, one business owner also had to change the way he does business and faced challenges after seeing an overwhelming increase in customers. Seth James is the owner of New England Bikes.

A few months into the pandemic, his business was slammed with customers looking to start a new outdoor hobby.

“It blew up. Our inventory just went out the door, many more months than it should’ve,” James noted.

In order to help keep his customers and staff safe, James said they switched to curbside pickup, but they had a hard time connecting with customers, which James said is important to his business.

“We’re always going to have to be here because this is where we repair things, we fix things, but we also have that social interaction with all of our customer base,” James explained.

Now, James has a hard time getting his hands on enough supplies to keep up with the demand.

“Our ability to go out and get some things really started to downfall and by the fall, it was challenging to get anything at all,” James added.

Even two years later, the pandemic is still throwing curve balls to local business owners.

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