SUMMERVILLE, S.C. — At the bookstore Main Street Reads, stocked shelves provide a form of comfort food for the soul.
“You can't even imagine how many classics that we've sold,” said bookstore owner Shari Stauch. “We think that it's because people wanted to gravitate towards something familiar, you know, in such an unfamiliar space.”
It’s an unfamiliar space navigated by everyone during the past year, including Stauch. We first met her a year ago, when the pandemic put the survival of her small business at stake.
“It was terrifying for really for all the businesses,” she said. “So, we did a lot of things to kind of keep the community out and about and know that we're here.”
While the country tries to get back to normal, small businesses may have an even longer road back to normalcy.
According to Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based economic data tracker, when compared to January 2020, before the pandemic, the number of small businesses open in the U.S. is down by double-digits in nearly every state.
In South Carolina, where Main Street Reads is located, it’s down by 26%; in Ohio, -30%; in Florida and Arizona, -31%; in Colorado, -32% and in California, -36%. In Michigan, it’s down nearly 40%.
Across the country, small business revenue is down nearly 29% since the pandemic began. Sectors hit especially hard include leisure and hospitality, where small business revenue is down 51%.
“It has been very, very difficult for small businesses,” said John Cui, a business professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
Cui said that during the pandemic, vulnerable small businesses faced two options.
“You can either adapt or you can retreat,” he said.
Many chose the latter, cutting their losses and selling what assets they could.
“Individually speaking, they are not as prominent as big companies that we hear about every day, but they are so important to the economy and they are so important to people's livelihoods,” Cui said.
So, what is there to do?
Cui said more government intervention geared towards small businesses may be needed.
“Government has to come up with something helpful, something fair, everybody has to agree with,” Cui said. “And then, it takes time.”
Yet, time that may have run out for some. For those that pulled through, there’s gratitude for their customers and fellow small business owners.
“I think what we really learned,” Stauch said, “is that we all have something to teach each other.”
It’s a lesson learned in lean times.