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Sumter businesses optimistic with community support during COVID-19

Sumter's business community has also been sharing ideas with one another, according to chamber of commerce leader Chris Hardy.

SUMTER, S.C. — Outside the orange and pink storefront of Susie's Chicken and Fries Wednesday stood a few customers with masks on and small baggies of food.

It's a joyous sight for owner Chris Wilson Davis, after months of uncertainty due to the coronavirus.

"One a day-to-day basis, we were really nervous and I didn't know when we would read or get an email that said that we had to shut down," Davis said.

Credit: Kayland Hagwood
Susie's Chicken and Fries storefront

The business, once only a food truck, opened its first storefront location in Sumter in December of last year.

The virus brought fear for the future, but, she says, support from Sumter's community turned her worries into optimism.

"The community was great," Davis said. "Anything that they could do, everyone kept thinking outside the box of things that they could do to keep all of our businesses open."

She saw her sales increase, and even decided to open a new location.

"We actually opened one in May, which was definitely a blessing," Davis said. "I was a bit nervous... I said, no, no, no, I think we should go ahead and do it."

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Sumter's business community has also been sharing ideas with one another, according to chamber of commerce leader Chris Hardy.

"It's been amazing to see how Sumter has pulled together all of its available resources, (and) the people coming together to help others in need," Hardy said. 

Few stores have had to close due to the virus, according to Hardy, instead they're getting innovative.

Credit: Kayland Hagwood
Cut Rate Soda Fountain Drive-thru

At the Cut Rate Soda Fountain, the sit-down restaurant is now offering a makeshift drive-thru.

"People can drive up right up here just like they were any other fast food restaurant and pick up their order," Manager Todd Touchberry said.

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It's been good for business, but, as the virus lingers, Touchberry said the future remains uncertain.

"Everything is a concern because we don't know. There are so many unknowns, whether it's the virus, whether it's the customer, or whether it's the food supplier," Touchberry said. "My thoughts on the future are, we'll find out tomorrow, and then tomorrow, we'll find out the next day."

Credit: Kayland Hagwood
The Sidewalk Cafe

Other business owners like Tracey Flemming of The Sidewalk Cafe face unique circumstances. She's a physician, supporting those in need of care as the virus rages on.

For now, her business remains closed.

"Right now, we're in an uncertain position. We're kind of at a crossroads. We have to decide if we're going to open back up or remain closed and focus our attention elsewhere," Flemming said. "Thankfully, I have other means of supporting my family, so while it's been devastating for my personal business, I've been able to have a positive impact on my community as a physician."

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She's hoping to see locals continue to shop local and show support. A message mirrored by Hardy, who said it will be key for shops going forward.