COLUMBIA, S.C. — A year after the coronavirus pandemic began in South Carolina, News 19 checked in with businesses to find out how they've been impacted and how they're doing today.
SC Chamber of Commerce
Swati Patel, interim CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, says this year has been incredibly unprecedented.
"This time last year, we had unprecedented surplus in revenues, we were having a super low unemployment rate, things were going extremely well for us economically," Patel said. "Fast forward to now and things have completely changed."
The interim CEO says the state of business from March 2020 to March 2021 has seen dramatic change.
When the pandemic started and many businesses closed, there was much less demand for products and services, which led to an increase in unemployment.
"The chamber's role back then was really just as businesses are trying to figure out what to do and how to get help, we helped them navigate a lot of the federal laws that were being passed at the time," Patel explained. "We had the stimulus bills, the paycheck protection program and our job here at the chamber was to really provide that assistance and help communicate between government and business so that they could understand how to take advantage of different resources that were available back then."
While some businesses struggled, others like grocery stores, bike stores, construction companies, home improvement, delivery services and other business sectors were doing well. The CEO believes manufacturing has remained relatively strong.
"We had a lot of areas in our economy that improved greatly and then we had a lot that obviously just really went downhill pretty quickly. I would say our small businesses were the ones that were impacted the most," Patel said.
The state lost 10% of small businesses due to the pandemic according to the SC Chamber of Commerce. The interim CEO says more businesses could close if they don't get relief soon.
The tourism industry has also struggled with many people not traveling to the coast. Many hotels and conference centers rely on people and companies coming to their location. The chamber thinks things may start improving late this summer.
One of the hardest hit industries during the coronavirus pandemic includes restaurants.
At the start of the pandemic, restaurants were limited to outdoor dining or carryout only. There were also capacity restrictions in place too.
Many businesses had to think quickly on their feet to find innovative ways to run their businesses. Some restaurants even built outdoor dining areas they didn't have before.
One Columbia dining spot who's dealt with the challenges of the pandemic is Blue Marlin in the Vista.
"We've definitely experienced a loss in sales and a loss in our guests' comfortability level I would say, especially during the winter months," said Rachel Hawkins, director of operations at Blue Marlin. "So, it's been difficult."
Hawkins believes the vaccine being more accessible and the weather getting nicer has contributed to more people coming back out to restaurants, creating a positive impact for businesses.
"We're definitely trying to make sure that we keep in mind our guests' comfort level and our staff comfort level," Hawkins explained. "We don't want to go out and try to make any crazy huge changes that might make our guests feel uncomfortable, but I do think that the vaccine, coupled with the government allowances, will in turn make guests feel more comfortable, and of course our staff."
The director of operations says they've also been encouraging their staff to get the vaccine once it's made available to them.
Last week, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster lifted the 11 p.m. curfew restriction for businesses.
Home Repair and Improvement
Rick Mckissick, one of the owners of Capital Supply, says this past year has been different, as it has been for most businesses.
"Luckily, we were able to stay open and pull through it," Mckissick said. "Our very reliable customers and I think a lot of people were home with nothing to do and they look around and say, 'I think I need to fix that faucet that's been leaking.' So, we've actually stayed pretty busy."
Initially, the owner says they were concerned because they didn't know how the pandemic would impact them. They ended up cutting hours a little bit so they didn't have to lay anyone off.
With many people stuck at home working during the pandemic, some came to Capital Supply to buy home repair items so they had something to do at the house. It's brought in both normal customers and new ones.
"(Profit) is probably, I think it's actually been a little better, surprisingly. We've actually picked up in some areas," Mckissick explained.
Looking to the Future
Patel says they are hopeful for the future because of the vaccine.
"The vaccine distribution, especially now that the (Phase) 1b category is opening up next week, I think creates a lot of hope for businesses," Patel explained. "We've had feedback from companies and businesses that have already implemented a vaccination plan for their employees, and they're ready to hit the ground running as soon as those supplies come in."
The interim CEO believes vaccinations will make a positive impact, specifically in the restaurant and hospitality sector.
"I think vaccination is really the key to hopefully opening up our economy and getting back to more business as usual," Patel said.
The interim CEO says she believes the state legislatures and government have helped businesses throughout the pandemic and allowed businesses to stay open in a safe way.
The Unemployment Trust Fund also helped keep taxes low for businesses and it was a big benefit, according to Patel.
The Liability Protection Bill is also being discussed in the state legislature to protect businesses when it comes to coronavirus claims if they're following health guidance to keep people safe. The bill is close to being passed.