Waco-area businesses are as weary as everyone else when dealing with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
No handshakes. Clean and disinfect more. Wash those hands. Wear a mask. Everyone knows the drill.
But local businesses also have been finding ways to survive despite the roadblocks caused by the disease as government leaders try to keep people safe while getting the economy going again and helping workers stay employed.
Sissy Gholson, owner of Gholson Original Fine Jewelry, said her employees made the adjustments to address COVID-19 restrictions when shelter-in-place orders were initiated in March.
“There were things we had to figure out how to deal with starting with the shutdown,” she said. “Half of our staff were not able to work. We did everything we could as business owners to keep them employed and we powered through and took it for the team so that there would be no layoffs. The rest of our staff worked behind locked doors.”
But it wasn’t as bad as expected and business has been good lately.
“Distancing and working with 50% to 75% capacity is not difficult because our store is laid out so that customers can be spaced out easily,” Gholson said. “Cleanliness, handwashing and such is nothing new for our jewelry store. Counters and surfaces have always gotten wiped down. Because we handle others’ jewelry washing our hands often is nothing we haven’t always done.
“Masks aren’t our favorite but we respectfully wear them under the order.”
She hopes to avoid another shutdown.
“Something I never want to see again would be a shutdown,” Gholson said. “It is not right to keep people from making a living and feeding their families. That is a dangerous and sad place to be. I’m so glad we were able to take good care of our employees, our team. I can’t go without giving a shout-out to our team of powerhouse jewelers and caring sales team.”
She’s also appreciative of her loyal customers.
“They have always been fabulous and through this they showed their support by purchasing through virtual sales, deliveries and curbside,” Gholson said. “They were super loving and supportive. They’ve always have been, so we were not surprised by that.”
Other businesses encountered similar challenges and did what they had to do.
NuGenesis Medical Spa
For business owners like Amy Peper with NuGenesis Medical Spa and Vein Care, being closed for eight weeks and told that her business was “unessential” kind of stung.
“It really hurt us to be mandated closed for eight weeks, and we now have a huge backlog of people we need to help,” she said. “We are interested in providing a safe environment for our patients to have the services done, and I think they appreciate that very much.”
Like other businesses, NuGenesis follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and requirements from Gov. Greg Abbott and Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver.
“There’s been plenty of controversy over what’s effective or what’s necessary, in the COVID scene,” she said. “We are interested in providing a safe environment for our patients to have the services done, and I think they appreciate that very much.”
After re-opening, NuGenesis has been busy.
“We’re blessed with many patients seeking us, and we’re gratified at seeing small businesses like ours stick together, for the good of the community,” she said.
But they have had to change some protocols in the process.
“Every time we turn around, we’re improving what we do for people,” she said. “Whether it’s training reception staff, making appointment scheduling easier, fine-tweaking the medical procedures we’re known for doing well, or polishing our ways of making people feel special, we’re always trying harder!
“The common thing everyone does here to improve is to do their best to make our patients comfortable and well cared for.”
Robert Mills, owner of Miracle-Ear Hearing Air Center in Waco and vice president of Miracle-Ear of Texas, said keeping patients safe is the top priority.
“We are taking all the necessary precautions to ensure we have a clean and sanitized office for our patients,” Mills said. “In addition, we are screening all patients with a list of questions aimed at identifying those who may have been exposed. We also require all staff and patients to have their temperature checked prior to entering the office and require everyone to wear a mask.
“We sanitize between each and every patient and also space appointments in order to maintain social distance.”
The business also implemented curbside service not only for its patients but anyone who might need help with their hearing aids.
“People need hearing help especially during times like these when they are shut-in and need to be able to hear what is going on via television, phone conversations and doctor appointments,” Mills said. “We have also found ways to help patients who can’t get out by doing curbside service outside their home or care facility, maintaining social distancing and keeping sanitization at maximum efficiency.”
Mills said they try to find innovative ways to serve their patients
“We have made wellness calls to check on them to make sure they are doing okay and to see if they need anything,” he said. “Some of our patients live alone and we may be the only one they have had to call and check on them. This type of call really makes their day.”
They also have discovered that wearing masks has led to problems for some patients.
“The use of masks has caused a significant hardship for people who have hearing problems because they are no longer able to read lips as a way of coping,” Mills said. “The use of masks has also caused our patients to lose their hearing aids. We have found that our patients need us now more than ever.”
Stonehaven Dental & Orthodontics
As a health care facility, Stonehaven Dental & Orthodontics was already committed to keeping their patients safe, said Jackie Wheeler, director of operations,
But they initiated added measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19 when the governor allowed the reopening of dental offices in early May.
As a precaution, all the magazines and decorations in the lobby were removed on the chance they could be contaminated, she said.
“Now it’s just blank chairs there,” Wheeler said.
Patients also undergo a thorough screening process before they are seen by a dentist or hygienist. If they were out of the state of Texas within the prior two weeks, Stonehaven won’t see them until after that period has passed. Other COVID-related questions concerning their health also are addressed and their temperature is checked upon arrival.
The office will text patients 15 minutes before a scheduled appointment, and after they have arrived in the parking lot, have to await another text signaling when to go in. The office wants to keep the number of people in the lobby limited to a safe number.
Of course, masks are required to be worn before and after the procedure, she said.
“Our patients feel comfortable with that,” Wheeler said. “They know it’s to keep them safe. We help them have a great time even as we need to take care of them.”
She said she hoped the public at large would be more diligent to help keep the disease at bay.
‘If more people would follow guidelines and the systems put in place, it’s not that difficult,” she said.
Wild Birds Unlimited
When non-essential business were shut down, Wild Birds Unlimited could offer only curbside service and delivery, said owner Nick Dicorte. The curbside service continues.
“Our store is open, however, we only allow five people in at a time so they can practice social distancing,” he said. “Of course, you are required to wear a face mask.
“We do offer delivery and that did increase during the shelter-in-place — we had five to six deliveries a day on average.”
During the shutdown, Dicorte said he directed customers to the online store — mywbu.com/waco – and did more social media through Facebook in addition to emails and print advertising. A grant provided by the Tribune-Herald also helped, he said.
But there were challenges, he added.
“When the store was shut down, I had to furlough my two employees, which any business owner hates to do, because we’re family and we know how it affects them as well,” Dicorte said. “I kept really busy during that time. I’m glad to have them both back at work now. Another adjustment is we had to learn that it takes a lot longer to get merchandise in when we order it, so now we order way before we are out of products.”
Curbside business picked up during the shutdown, he said.
“It slowed down in general, but seemed busy to me because I was working by myself,” he said. “I would say business decreased about 50%. All the purchasing of feeders, birdhouses, etc., died down. They were only shopping for bird food for the most part.”
Customers told him they were glad to be able to continue to get their bird feed and products.
China Spring Country Store
Mike Jones, owner of China Spring Country Store and McGregor General Store, said he’s thankful none of his employees have gotten sick with COVID-19 and that he only had to cut back on staff one time during the initial shutdown.
“We wear masks and stepped up our cleaning schedules, wiping down surfaces more often,” he said of the daily routine with the stores.
“We had to be at the store to serve our customers, but our online store at our sister store, McGregor General Store, has really taken off. We have always done curbside pickup or call ahead for customers.”
He said running out of stock on some products has been a challenge, but the business is doing well.
“Business has been really good,” he said. “A lot of people are doing home projects – chickens, gardens and home improvements.”
“We are all in this together,” he added. “We just do what we need to do to take care of our customers, employees and our families.”
Family of Faith Worship Center
Though not a business, churches are places where people gather and interact, so many have opted to continue not worshiping or holding activities in person. Others are meeting with numerous safety measures in place.
Pastor Ruben Andrade Jr. of Family of Faith Worship Centers said his congregants had been meeting in the church, but social distancing was required by leaving a row empty. Ushers wore masks and gloves and hand sanitizers were installed throughout the church.
Instead of church members coming up to leave their offering, it is taken up by the ushers to minimize movement.
Facebook Live was used to stream the worship services for those opting to stay home.
Additionally, all children’s classes, Wednesday and Sunday night classes and services were eliminated for the time being, he said.
But after July 5, because of concerns about the rising number of cases of COVID-19 in the county, kept rising and decided it would be safer to hold services outdoors.
Family of Faith Worship Center has moved to a “drive-in” worship setting. Congregants said stay in their car or near it to listen and take part in the service.
The pandemic has also significantly impacted the social service the church provides, such as its community food pantry.
“We had to move our community food pantry from client choice to pre-boxed and pre-bagged groceries and distributed through drive-thru,” Andrade said. Previously, people could go into the warehouse and select the items they needed.
“In the month of July we closed the pantry completely due to the increase in COVID-19 cases,” he added. “Volunteers have decreased, where the need for assistance has increased.”
Meeting that demand for social services such as food, rent and utility assistance has been the biggest challenge during the pandemic, he said, because they are working with a limited amount of resources and volunteers.
St. Paul Lutheran Church
The Rev. Larry Krueger, senior pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, said in-person worship resumed on May 10 (Mother’s Day) but the services are held with added protocols in place for safety.
One of the new policies is having people register to come to worship. Krueger said that does three things. First, it avoids overcrowding as space is limited with only every other pew in use for social distancing. Second, if someone who had attended learns they tested positive for COVID-19, they can report that to the church, who can then let others that attended be aware. And third, he said, it helps them plan for the number of people who said they will attend.
“Most people are playing it safe and staying home,” Krueger said, adding that he thinks that’s a wise approach, especially for those in high-risk groups.
The church has livestreamed its 10:30 a.m. worship service for the last five years so experiencing worship remotely continues to be an option for those staying home, he said.
For those that registered and do attend, changes include seating in every other pew and no more than two family units per pew, spaced out properly. Krueger said they even placed a 6-foot length of PVC in the pew so members could see what that looks like.
Those attending are expected to wear a mask upon entering and exiting. It’s optional once seated.
Hymnals were taken out of the pews and whatever is needed for services are on printed sheets that can be disposed of after worship or taken home.
Those serving communion have to wear masks and gloves and only one row at a time goes to receive communion to avoid cross-traffic. Offering plates are not passed; instead, there is one common offertory plate to place giving. Online giving also is encouraged.
When worship ends, ushers direct people out a row at a time starting from the back.
“We’re being as safe as we can,” Krueger said. “We’ve also gotten feedback from those attending. I’ve asked them, ‘Do you feel safe?’ We stay attentive to that.”
Westview Nursery and Landscape
Keith Houck, who co-owns Westview Nursery and Landscape Co., with his brother Gregg, said they likewise made the adjustments to wear masks and remember to distance employees from customers.
They put up signs about wearing masks as a reminder to customers and added a protective shield for the cashier.
To better serve customers, Westview added curbside service and the ability to call ahead and order.
“We will have the items ready to load when you get here; just call from the parking lot,” Houck said, adding that customers appreciate those options along with deliveries.
“We have handled those changes great,” he said.
One change he’s noticed during this pandemic with people staying home more is that they are doing their own landscaping instead of having Westview come out and do the work.
Camille Johnson, Realtors
Camille Johnson and her real estate agents are out of the office more than they are in. But they definitely had to adjust how they do their job, she said.
“When they are showing or listing homes, we require masks to be worn and we do not drive with the clients in our cars anymore,” Johnson said. “At the office, at all times unless we are at our desks, we wear masks. We wear them going in the halls, copier and any public place.”
That occurs on tours of homes as well, she said.
“We are very conscientious of the homes that we show or list, and we try to wear gloves and masks and not touch light switches or doors as much as possible,” Johnson said. “Many of our clients have thanked us for taking this so seriously. They appreciate feeling safe while they are viewing homes because many buyers did not have a choice about moving. Their jobs had had moved them here during this difficult time.”
Emails, group texts and phone calls keep the realtors informed so the times they do need to be in the office are limited.
Johnson said they have been surprisingly busy the last few months.
“With interest rates being so low, it has been a great time to buy a home or to sell a home,” she said. “We do not see any slowdown yet in our market, but again, we are surprised that business has been so good. We are very thankful.”
Rose-e Salazar of R&R Remodeling said it’s so important in his business to communicate with his customers.
“What I’ve done is post on some of the jobs for the clients that are 60 or over to respect the fact of what’s happening, but also following the guidelines that the city has put out for all of us so that we can be protective of one another,” he said.
“Our employees always ask our clients when we are in their home if they would like us to wear a mask,” he said. “We do what they request. They feel comfortable saying they are OK. A lot of cases it’s business as usual.”
Being able to adjust comes with the job, he added.
“I’m always creative, daily, on how to be more on point because we are a company that does more than one project at a time,” he said “We multi-task, we try to always work on the best plan, adjusting as necessary and improving as we go along.”
When the shutdown occurred in mid-March, it did leave him uncertain at the beginning.
“When all of this first happened, just like everybody, you panic,” he said. “What’s tomorrow going to look like? I researched the guidelines and began following them.
“I can honestly say we have surged and peaked more in business in this quarter than we’ve done last year.”
The Gift Horse
Cassie Rowntee said the policy for The Gift Horse is “Let’s stay happy and healthy together.”
“We enhanced our in-place health and safety policies by installing a contactless check-out and payment system, increasing hand sanitizing stations throughout the store, and sanitizing in between customer visits,” she said. “We also added the no-mess, no-chemical UV sanitizing wand!”
For a store all about creative gift giving, it got creative about promoting itself.
“We missed supporting and participating in Art Center Waco Table Toppers this year, so we began fun bright displays to our front windows and entry area, creating an entertaining visual for curbside pickup,” she explained. “We also enhanced our website to bring the store into our shopping center to support each other out during this time.”
Staying informed and communication is crucial for a small business today, she said.
“In the store we work hard to provide a personal shopper experience,” she said. “Social media, emails and taking time to make phone calls has become more important than ever.”
The store saw its online sales go up during the shutdown from mid-March to May 1, when it reopened.
“We saw an increase in online sales for care gifts and personal health and safety products such as face masks, UV sanitizing wands and Tyler detergent,” Rowntree said. “Once we reopened we have noticed an increase with in-store shopping. As a locally owned small business, we are so thankful and blessed to have the support of our community!”
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!