Helping businesses survive difficult times
In his Socratic dialogue “The Republic,” Plato wrote that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The Greek philosopher wasn’t predicting the 2020 economic crisis touched off by the coronavirus pandemic, but his words do aptly describe the situation many small businesses currently find themselves in. Pandemic conditions are forcing business owners to rethink their business models and getting creative in order to survive.
A case in point, as described in a June 21 story by Day Staff Writer Mary Biekert, is the local shellfish industry, which saw its wholesale business to restaurants and distributors halt when eateries shuttered in March. Tim Giulini, co-owner of Stonington Farms Shellfish, said he typically sells 5,000 oysters a week to a Boston-based distributor and hundreds more shellfish to local restaurants. When those sales stopped, Giulini pivoted to selling direct to the consumer to help keep his business afloat. While those sales now are less than 10 percent of his pre-pandemic sales volume, Giulini told The Day, “It’s definitely helping us get by.”
Connecticut’s $30 million commercial shellfish industry, along with so many other business sectors, is adapting fast in light of coronavirus-induced shutdowns and the lingering pandemic-produced economic malaise. Through creative direct-to-consumer marketing on social media, pop-up events, collaborations with other types of businesses and other progressive tactics, the shellfish industry is finding ways to stay afloat.
Shellfishermen are not alone in this creative thinking. Early in the pandemic, many small distilleries, including local ones such as Westerly’s Grey Sail Brewing, shifted to producing much-sought-after hand sanitizer for healthcare workers. Darkened restaurants appealed to future customers by peddling gift cards. Arts organizations and museums that could not invite guests into their physical spaces, opened to customers by offering virtual tours, exhibits and lectures. Many of these were free at first, but fees are now sometimes attached, or donations gratefully accepted.
The Garde Arts Center is offering “Garde Virtual Cinema” — the at-home version of its popular winter cinema series. Dev’s on State paired with the Flock Makerspace to offer “Dinner and a Show,” featuring creative takeout meals complete with a bottle of wine, and streamed entertainment by local music artists.
The particularly hard-hit special events sector also is pivoting to direct-to-consumer marketing. The nation’s $78 billion wedding services industry largely has screeched to a halt for the foreseeable future, but some caterers are finding a market for prepared meals among consumers tired of the three-meal-a-day kitchen grind after months of staying home. North Stonington’s Gourmet Galley, for example, is offering Gourmet Galley at Home — twice-a-week pickup and delivery of meals ranging from lobster mac and cheese and salads to take-to-the-beach nibbles and desserts. It has paired with local farms, vineyards and breweries to offer grocery items including fresh eggs, meat, flour, milk, beer and wine.
The point is, even in times as difficult as these, the creativity of the free-enterprise system and the entrepreneurial spirit of those who fuel it, remain a great strength
Even as the state now slowly starts emerging from full shutdown mode, it’s unlikely to return to pre-pandemic conditions any time soon. Restrictions on crowd sizes remain, consumers with serious health conditions continue to stay home and many others still feel uncomfortable in public spaces where social distancing is difficult. Business pivots will remain necessary as long as the virus lingers.
Consumer pivots can help. Local small businesses must survive this crisis to have any chance to once again thrive once the virus threat has dissipated. That means it’s important for residents to pull together and actively seek out ways to support the many small businesses upon which our economy relies. To, when possible, support their creative efforts.
That’s exactly what Kathy and Bill Young are doing, they recently told a Day reporter. After discovering they could buy oysters fresh off the docks, they’ve been driving weekly from their home in Fairfield to Noank.
“This is our third time in the last four weeks driving here and we love the ride,” Kathy Young said as she and her husband loaded bags of oysters into their car in Noank.
Here is to finding more such silver linings in these dark times.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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