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  • Writer's pictureLance Fisher

These Businesses Thrived as Others Struggled to Survive

As the pandemic ravaged small businesses across America, some were surprised — and conflicted — about their success.

Happy Cork, a wine shop that Sunshine Foss and her husband opened in Brooklyn a year before the pandemic, specializes in products from Black-owned businesses. Credit...Joshua Bright for The New York Times

As reported in the New York Times By Stacy Cowley and Amy Haimerl

Dec. 24, 2020

Small businesses were devastated in 2020. They have pivoted so frequently to deal with state-mandated shutdowns, new customer needs and pandemic safety protocols that many aren’t sure what direction they’re facing anymore. Nine months into the coronavirus crisis, more than a quarter remain closed, at least temporarily, according to data from Opportunity Insights, a research group at Harvard University.

But for some industries, it has been a banner year. Small-business owners serving customers who are trapped at home, shopping online and seeking outdoor adventures have tallied record sales.

Success during a crisis can be uncomfortable. “I can’t say enough that it’s bittersweet,” said Sunshine Foss, the owner of Happy Cork, a Brooklyn wine shop whose sales soared as other businesses in her neighborhood closed down.

Here are five small businesses that beat the pandemic odds and are thriving — and even hiring — as they move into 2021.

“I’m so happy now that there’s huge customer demand, but it’s bittersweet that it took all of this to get attention on these brands,” Ms. Foss said.Credit...Joshua Bright for The New York Times

When Ms. Foss and her husband, Remo, opened their wine store in March 2019 on a lightly trafficked side street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, hours would sometimes pass without a sale.

“We would stand on the street and beg people to come in and try our stuff,” she said.

The pandemic changed that. As the city locked down in the spring, customers streamed in for wine by the bottle and by the case. In April, sales doubled. Sales jumped again in the summer: As protests over police brutality and systemic racism rocked the city and nation, demand for products from Black-owned businesses — Happy Cork’s specialty — increased.

“I couldn’t keep Black Girl Magic on the shelves,” Ms. Foss said, referring to a California wine collection created by two sisters. “I’m so happy now that there’s huge customer demand, but it’s bittersweet that it took all of this to get attention on these brands.”

Esrever Wines, a label created by three longtime friends from Queens, has been one of the beneficiaries. The pandemic complicated production for the company, because the California winery that produces its blends is short on staff, but demand has soared and Happy Cork is among the business’s top retail locations, said Tyshemia Ladson, one of Esrever’s founders.

A loan of $1,875 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program helped the shop through the pandemic’s early days. Ms. Foss doubled her staff this year, to eight employees, and she has been happily surprised to have shoppers from all over the country stopping by, often drawn in by her prolific social media posts. Her business has now blown past the sales projections she mapped out when it opened.

“A lot of stores that open in our neighborhoods have bulletproof glass; you can’t touch the bottles,” Ms. Foss said. “I wanted something that was an intimate shopping experience; I wanted the store to smell really good and look really pretty and be comfortable. We have pricing that works for everyone. You can get a great bottle for $8 from a brand you would never have known about.”

LPF's Takeaway:

From a branding perspective, Ms. Foss got it right. She has really spent time learning about and designing a compelling and unique experience - up to and including the scent of her shop! It takes that kind of brand commitment to have people remember their experience when they're in your store. Also, noteworthy, she got her social media right and is engaging people before they come to her shop - literally driving people to her shop. LPF Hunters too can help you create a compelling memorable website as a start to your comprehensive digital marekting program.

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