By Olivia Montes
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the United States, local businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and those in Chestertown are not immune to these pandemic-related issues.
Local businesses are struggling to keep up against big-name competitors like Walmart, Amazon, and Walgreens, and face the fear of closing for good. According to a Yelp Economic Impact Report published in September 2020, small businesses have been closing at a rapid pace since the start of the pandemic, with over 160,000 small businesses having closed last August as part of stay-at-home orders, and an additional 100,000 having permanently shut their doors.
“Businesses of all sizes have been hit hard in this challenging new age of social distancing and self-isolation, but the blow has been catastrophic for small operations that rely on in-person transactions,” NBC News reporter Nicole Spector said in 2020. “[It is] a loss not only for workers and their communities, but also for the American job market at large.”
Figg’s Ordinary is a brick-and-mortar cafe specializing in providing locally sourced, gluten-free meals in Chestertown since 2017, after two years of brand development at the Chestertown Farmers’ Market. When faced with a future of uncertainty, they knew they needed to re-adjust, both for the sake of their business and for the surrounding community.
“Once it became apparent that COVID-19 was here to stay, we closed our shop to customers and retrofitted our space to accommodate carry out,” Figg’s Ordinary Founder and Chief Content & Operating Officer Ingrid Hansen said.
“Our staff has been trained to clean as necessary and of course follow all applicable guidelines: we have redoubled our online ordering bandwidth…[and] we have scaled our marketing initiatives and calibrated them to reflect on-line strengths,” she said. “For now, we have learned to enjoy smiling eyes, if not faces.”
If it’s local food you’re craving, order takeout whenever possible. Customers can order staple specialties from nearby restaurants, cafes, and other eateries via their home websites, such as Cafe Sodo, Play It Again, Sam, 98 Cannon, Luisa’s Cucina Italiana, and many more. If you’re looking to purchase local and organically grown ingredients to make your own dorm room meals, visit Chestertown Natural Foods.
For those looking to add to their book or music collections, be sure to check out The Book Plate, The Listening Room, and Music Life. For those interested in upgrading their wardrobes from winter to spring, visit clothing and accessory store staples such as Walnut & Wool, Women in Need, Inc., and Empty Hangers.
If you feel comfortable supporting local businesses in person, be sure to continue abiding by mandated safety requirements, such as wearing a prescribed number of masks and social distancing, as well as other rules enforced by each business.
The Chestertown Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market is a gathering of local businesses within the eastern shore of Maryland every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. in downtown Chestertown. The market enforces mandated safety protocols. These practices, which included mask wearing and social distancing, which not only promote a safe space for customers old and new alike, but also to help vendors gain weekly business and preserve a sense of community within the town.
“When [the pandemic] happened, I think people realized how important the local food system was,” Julia King, manager of the market since October 2019, said. “There were a lot of shortages at the grocery store, and people were kind of nervous about shopping indoors…so the Farmer’s Market provided a safe way for people to come and shop.”
Business owners also encourage customers to be cautious as they shop, and to return to in-person shopping at their own pace and solace.
“It all depends on [one’s] level of comfort,” King said. “We have [had] people that shop that really don’t go anywhere except to the Farmers’ Market, so the fact that the [Market] is the one place where they do feel safe really speaks volumes.”
While it is important to be cautious, business owners also encourage customers to take the necessary steps to emerge back into the world again at their own pace, as a majority of individuals have been changed because of this year-long experience.
“Be careful, but [do] not cease all that life has to offer, even in the time of a pandemic,” Hansen said.
“We have all learned a lot, and there is much that can be done, especially in… towns that interestingly are now very sought after provided people move with care and caution,” she said.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic remains unpredictable, local Chestertown businesses like Figg’s Ordinary and the Farmers’ Market feel the support of the community, and are hopeful about the future.
“By late summer or fall, the comfort level may return, but variants loom large on the horizon,” Hansen said. “In light of the growing recognition of the pleasures of small rural towns, we are hopeful that tourism will pick up significantly and business will be booming.”
Featured Photo caption: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country, small Chestertown businesses, like the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market, are striving to provide the community support during these uncertain times. Photo by Ben Wang.