Weathering the Storm
Because of COVID-19, the past year has been incredibly challenging for everyone, and businesses are no exception. The pandemic has shaken nearly every industry in the country since it began, affecting companies big and small. In order to remain successful – sometimes, even to just survive – businesses have had to re-evaluate, adjust, and adapt to an economic climate over which COVID-19 still looms large. Fortunately, with the recent emergence of vaccines, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.
Here, six Chattanooga-area businesses reflect on how the pandemic has changed the way they operate, how they’ve persevered, and how they’re moving forward.
By Anna Hill | Photography by Lanewood Studio
For Morning Pointe Senior Living, 2020 was what one might call a “double whammy.” Just as the entire nation was in the early throes of the pandemic and its initial lockdown, two of Morning Pointe’s facilities were hit by an EF3 tornado that devastated parts of the greater Chattanooga area. “We safely evacuated all residents to local hotels temporarily in the middle of the night, and ultimately to other Morning Pointe communities,” Greg Vital, Morning Pointe’s president, explains. “Times were extremely difficult, but we learned to lean on the strength of our people, and together we did what had to be done.”
Morning Pointe, which operates assisted living, personal care, and Alzheimer’s memory care communities across the region, has had to take particular care with their operations throughout the pandemic, as it’s widely known that senior citizens are at elevated risk when it comes to the effects of COVID-19. According to CEO Franklin Farrow, “We had to pivot and adapt to new ways of providing care to our residents, including a new delivery system for food, how we conducted activities, and how we connected with the public to make sure we were still meeting the needs of the seniors who still needed our help.”
Though the pandemic has presented unexpected challenges at all of Morning Pointe’s facilities, the team has adjusted accordingly, finding ways to provide the best care for their residents. Activities now include Zoom nights where residents can visit virtually with their family members, as well as virtual cornhole competitions and a new program called “Morning Pointe in Motion,” which allows residents to virtually travel to historic sites across the United States. The communities have also hosted drive-by parades and designed visitation booths to allow residents to see their families in safe, socially distanced ways.
The difficulties of the past year have called for everyone at Morning Pointe to think on their feet, but everyone has more than risen to the challenge. “Our associates are our greatest strength,” Vital says. “There was no instruction manual for this, but once again, we met the challenge, and our team made the difference. I am so proud of every single one of them.”
For Terri Holley, owner of Embellish, the pandemic and its effect on her business was something she’d never expected to deal with. “I am not a very patient person, and I always want to set goals to increase business from month to month as well as year to year,” she explains. “When we were forced to close and business all but halted, I had to learn to be grateful for whatever business we got each day, even though it was well below what we would have expected or wanted.”
The team at Embellish, a women’s boutique specializing in contemporary designer apparel, shoes, and accessories, had to think fast to make the right adjustments to their business in order to stay afloat. “We immediately sped up the schedule to launch our website, and we greatly increased our presence on social media,” Holley says. The cuts they made to their expenses meant pulling back on money spent for marketing, which they began to do in-house instead. “My daughter, who works for a fashion company in New York, was furloughed from her position, and she was a huge help in this endeavor,” explains Holley.
The challenges that the pandemic has presented to Holley and her business have made her realize the importance of nurturing her work connections. “If you have good relationships with your vendors and pay your bills on time when a disaster hits, they will work with you,” she says. “For the first time in my career, I had no choice but to cancel a significant number of orders. Luckily, almost all of my vendors worked with me and were very understanding.” Operating a business with integrity has always been crucial for Holley, and because of this, she’s been able to keep Embellish going when times are hard.
Holley also has a deep appreciation for the support system she’s had during COVID-19. “Our Embellish team has been absolutely amazing, and my husband Craig has always been my biggest cheerleader,” she shares. She’s especially grateful for her customers and looks forward to seeing more of them once life returns to normal. “I have definitely missed them!” says Holley.
In recent years, you might have started hearing the phrase “shop local” – an increasingly popular sentiment that aims to support and boost small businesses. Locals Only, a gift shop on Frazier Avenue founded by Danielle Landrum, is the embodiment of this idea. “Everything in our shop comes to us from local Tennessee artists, artisans, or businesses,” Landrum shares, emphasizing that they specialize in Chattanooga-made products to stock their local gift boxes.
It’s no secret that small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, and Landrum and her team at Locals Only knew they had to act fast. “Luckily, we were already operating an online business and had an e-commerce website in place,” she explains. “We took advantage of that and began operating online-only during the lockdown.” They also had employees delivering gifts right to people’s doors. After lockdown was lifted, they enforced social distancing guidelines to make sure that visitors could shop safely, as well as provided free masks to anyone who didn’t have one.
Despite unforeseen difficulties that COVID-19 has brought on, Landrum knew that failure was not an option. “Locals Only is not only our family business – it is also a place where so many local makers and businesses are able to sell their products and gain exposure,” she explains. Not to mention, the shop’s employees and their families were depending on the business to support them during uncertain times.
One of their solutions to boost business was the creation of gift boxes called “Boredom Busters,” which were filled with local items designed to entertain anyone stuck at home. The sales for these helped keep business going in the spring.
Thanks to the support of the community, Locals Only is not only staying afloat, but looking to the future. “It is difficult to not get emotional when thinking about what the support of our community kept us from losing,” Landrum shares.
She and everyone else at the shop are looking forward to the time when they can resume their Maker School classes and open houses with live music, which they had started hosting prior to the pandemic. “There are so many things that we cannot wait to bring back,” she says.
After launching Moonlight Roller in 2019, Adrienne Cooper had laid out plans to open a roller lounge for adults, hoping to capitalize on the resurgence of roller skating. The Moonlight Roller brand is made up of Moonlight x Mobile, a mobile roller disco, as well as the Moon Boot, a line of roller skates designed by Cooper. She’d been looking forward to launching the roller lounge, but unfortunately, COVID-19 put all of that on hold.
The advent of lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic felt daunting to Cooper, but her decision to pivot to online sales turned out to be an excellent one. “I was designing a rental skate for Moonlight x Mobile toward the end of 2019, and in March 2020, when we lost all our bookings due to COVID, I decided to sell a limited run of the skates,” explains Cooper. As fate would have it, the Moon Boot went viral, gaining popularity to the extent that Cooper and her team decided to roll out an entire line of skates. “It was a blessing in disguise,” she reveals.
Though the success of the skate line was a blessing, the ongoing pandemic made it difficult for the Moonlight Roller team to keep up. As people looked for outdoor activities to do close to home, more and more people placed orders for skates. “We had to shut down several times last fall to quarantine for possible exposures, which led us to get increasingly behind,” she shares. “Thankfully, our team is incredible, and they’ve all been really flexible.”
The pandemic may have presented Cooper and her team with challenges and setbacks, but they’ve found ways to adapt and are on track for even more success in the foreseeable future. They’ve recently opened up a skate shop, and plans for the 21+ roller lounge are still in the cards. “Moonlight is a huge undertaking and has totally taken on a life of its own, but I’m lucky to have the best cheering section and support system in the world,” Cooper says. “I can’t wait to get a big crowd together to skate again.”
When the pandemic hit the United States in full force during March of 2020, it sent seismic shifts through every corner of the medical community, including Chattanooga’s Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics. “The changes – such as immediate deployment of telemedicine, adhering to the ever-changing CDC guidelines and local and state mandates, and procurement of PPE when resources were painfully scarce – were unprecedented in my career,” Becky Farmer, the practice’s CEO, says. “We knew that our primary goal was to continue to provide the highest level of care to our patients while keeping them and our CSMO family safe.”
The staff at CSMO, an orthopaedic practice and ambulatory surgery center, knew they would have to quickly adapt and make changes to their operations in order to continue meeting the needs of their patients. Employees who weren’t assigned to direct patient care were moved to work-from-home in a matter of days, and leadership met every morning via Zoom to assess the state of operations and ensure needs were safely being met. “We deployed screeners at the doors of every facility to make certain that temperatures were taken and COVID-19-related questions were cleared before anyone entered one of our facilities,” Farmer explains. They also performed a survey of their facilities to identify common touch points and worked to limit those accordingly.
Everyone on the CSMO team did an excellent job adapting, and Farmer feels lucky to be working alongside them. “I knew that we had extraordinary leadership before the pandemic, but I remain astounded at what we accomplished in such a short period of time when the pandemic started,” she shares. “It’s energizing and so rewarding when everyone ‘loses their title’ and simply locks arms – virtually, of course – to do what is needed in crisis.”
Though things are currently running smoothly at CSMO, Farmer still anticipates the day when she can meet with her team in person. “I am looking forward to the entire management team being in our conference room together, enjoying lunch and many laughs,” she says.
The storefront of Chatta-Cakes Bakery, located on Hixson Pike, is bright and cheery, bedecked with pastel colors and imagery of bluebirds – a favorite of owner Shannon Anderson’s late mother. The front windows are often decorated on-theme for whichever holiday is approaching next, and the display cases inside reveal rows of beautifully decorated sweet treats. Truly a family business, the bakery is owned and operated by Anderson and her husband, Mike, with her niece, Kaitlyn Whalen, serving as chief cake and cookie decorator.
When the pandemic sent the country into lockdown last March, the bakery was faced with challenges from several different directions. However, the rush on groceries for those preparing to stay at home presented Chatta-Cakes with an unexpected obstacle: a scarcity of flour. When their supplier couldn’t come through, they resorted to shopping at grocery stores, but even that was a struggle. “Each store would only allow the purchase of five pounds of flour per person, and we go through 100 pounds a week,” Anderson explains. Thankfully, family and friends pitched in to help with the shopping, and they managed to secure what they needed.
Aside from the flour debacle, Anderson knew that the bakery needed to shift their business practices a bit to persevere through the pandemic. “We started offering curbside delivery, and we individually wrap items in the shop now,” she says.
The bakery also started selling smaller cakes to coincide with smaller gatherings – elopement cakes instead of wedding cakes, for example – and regularly put together cookie decorating kits to keep children who are learning at home entertained. “Each month we do another theme, and we always sell out,” says Anderson. This quick thinking has kept the bakery afloat over the last year.
“Really, it’s our community that keeps us going,” Anderson shares. “All of our customers swarmed in to buy treats for their loved ones, and many bought gift certificates to help us during the pandemic.”
Though the team looks forward to the future when they can go back to spending their mask and hand sanitizer budget on food-related expenses again, they’re still appreciative of what they have. “People travel from all over to support our little bakery, and we are so grateful,” says Anderson. CS