A New Normal: How Local Businesses Are Adapting

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When Maryland began to limit business operations as a result of the pandemic, many small businesses were forced to find creative ways to stay open. From curbside pickup to delivery services, businesses had to learn how to adapt.

As Maryland begins to reopen, many Severna Park businesses have returned to work, but it is not business as usual.

Eddie Conway, the owner of Garry’s Grill & Catering, received word that outdoor seating would be opening before County Executive Steuart Pittman made an official announcement. Though he was eager to have customers back at the restaurant, Conway knew he had to make changes.

One of the first steps was contacting Holt Paper & Chemical Company to find a food-safe and eco-safe disinfectant to clean all the surfaces at the restaurant between customers. He also invested in hand sanitizer to keep around the restaurant.

“It sounds crazy, but the restaurant business is one of the cleanest places you can go to as long as they are doing the right thing,” said Conway.

With the permission of his landlord, Conway transformed an empty pallet into an outdoor seating area. Absolute Party Rental supplied Garry’s Grill with tables, chairs and umbrellas to make the space functional. Conway also purchased an outdoor bar from Savvy Consignment.

“Talk about businesses helping businesses,” said Conway. “That is what it's all about at the end of the day. That is what is great about this community. Everyone helps the other out when they need it.”

Soon, Conway has plans to build a more permanent outdoor dining room. He is slowly replacing the rented furniture and buying yard games for customers to make the current space more permanent.

“The funny thing is I have been working on a patio for out there for about four years,” said Conway. “The best thing about this whole thing is turning lemons into lemonade. It is a practice run for the staff to know what we need, where we need it. We are just using it now as a way to know what we’ll have to do in four or five months when we are outside full-time.”

With all nonessential businesses closed, Franklin’s Toys co-owner Stephen Kaufmann was worried for his business, his employees and for his customers’ health.

“We had no idea, of course, how long the shutdown was going to be,” said Kaufmann. “But one thing was for certain: that this was bad. It wasn’t going to end soon, so we needed to react.”

Though the store was closed to the public, Franklin’s offered curbside pickup, online shopping and Kaufmann logged over 2,000 miles on his car during deliveries. More recently, the toy store has been FaceTiming customers who want to walk around the store but are not ready to come in.

“One of the things that we learned through this whole nightmare is that we have to continue these things,” said Kaufmann. “Curbside should always be an option for whatever reason. If somebody doesn't want to come into the store or can't come into the store, we can help them over the phone. We can get their purchase ready. We can wrap it if it is a gift and run it up to their car. Why not continue doing that?”

Franklin’s is now open to the public, but the child’s play area has been temporarily removed.

Kaufmann said that he is grateful to be a part of a community that values local businesses. While they do not have to shop small, Kaufmann believes that Severna Park will do anything for its small business community.

“I've always wanted to own a toy store, but what I've learned during this pandemic is that I didn't realize how connected I was going to become to the community and how much it was going to mean to me,” said Kaufmann.

When Cafe Mezzanotte owner Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis heard that businesses were being closed, he was terrified for his business.

“After the initial two-week shock, I realized that just as conventional marketing wasn't effective right now, my existing offerings were not entirely effective either,” said Koukoulis.

Cafe Mezzanotte began offering delivery on GrubHub and curbside pickup. Koukoulis started focusing on platters and promotions, rather than single-serving meals. He also opened a seafood market, which expanded into an organic market to support the local farmers who provide Cafe Mezzanotte with its meats and produce.

“The Organic Market in particular was an emotional win as I love sharing these products with the community and I love supporting the small farmers who produce them,” said Koukoulis.

Koukoulis said that the support from the community was amazing and he is excited to serve customers in person once again.

“I have learned that nothing can stop us,” said Koukoulis. “I have learned that there are people within and around Mezzanotte who care about this place as much as I do.”

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