When the pandemic started over a year ago, nobody knew what was lying ahead. Many of us joked about how we were just going to be home for two weeks and enjoying an extended spring break. Nobody could have predicted the lockdown and quarantine that would be necessary, nor the months spent attempting to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the coronavirus. During this time, businesses suffered as they were forced to shut down. When places were allowed to open again, some people were still apprehensive about going out in public. COVID-19 has devastated businesses like Becca Cosmetics, which will be shutting down in September 2021. The pandemic has not just impacted larger businesses and movie theater chains, but also local businesses that rely on their surrounding community to help them stay afloat. With many students in Gainesville opting to go home last March, this meant local businesses lost a big portion of their clients. But now a year later, many local businesses have adapted and overcome the uncertainty and fear this pandemic brought with it.
The challenge ahead
Flashbacks Recycled Fashions is a local consignment store here in Gainesville that has been a staple in the city for 34 years now. The owner of Flashbacks, Steve Nichtberger, graduated from the University of Florida in 1982 and decided he didn’t want to go into the real world or into a corporate job. In the mid 1980s, he planned to start a consignment store with some friends, but slowly, people started to drop from the project until Nichtberger was the last one left. Nichtberger said COVID-19 impacted his business.
“I thought I was going to close forever after 34 years,” Nichtberger said.
He explained he still had to pay the air conditioning bill (so the clothes wouldn’t get ruined in a humid store) and for the alarm system even though the store was closed. It was hard to pay bills without any income coming in. Nichtberger said because of this, he ended up having to go into his savings. Eventually, as the rest of the world started to reopen, so did Flashbacks.
After three and a half months of being closed, Flashbacks opened back up slowly. Nichtberger reopened, but he had to shorten the store’s hours, cut staff and work much more than he had before.
“July and August were slow,” Nichtberger said. “And then in September and October, and [going] forward the numbers went better. Now business has never been better. It’s even better than before, and we’re busy seven days a week.”
The start of the pandemic was a rough time for everyone as we had to adjust to staying home all the time and not interacting with other people face to face. But it’s important to try to find the specks of good and growth the pandemic inadvertently brought along with it. Nichtberger said the pandemic brought some awful things, but he used it to grow.
“I changed a lot of things because of the pandemic, and it’s worked for the store,” Nichtberger said. “I changed the hours because no one wanted to work at first because they were scared. I was trying to be a Walmart before with having 11 hours a day for people to come shop.”
Now, Flashbacks is open every day from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Nichtberger loves the reduced hours because it allows him to appreciate what he has.
How to support local businesses
A good way to support local businesses is to explore your area. Try a new breakfast place every weekend, visit a new thrift store with your roommates or even get a coffee from your favorite local place every once in a while. And if you’re still uncomfortable dining in at a restaurant, you can still grab takeout from a local place. One of my personal favorites is Boca Fiesta, and its to-go margaritas are served in cute mason jars. Another way to support Flashbacks — besides buying things at their store — is to go in and sell your own clothes.
“I got into this business because even back in the 1980s, I was thinking about the environment, and I was aware I don’t have to create or destroy anything [in this job,” Nichtberger said.
As a college student, it can be hard to have the money to support all the amazing local places in the Gainesville area. But spreading out the times when you spend money at these places can help alleviate the burden while also allowing you to connect with the amazing community here. It also makes the times you frequent your favorite local thrift store or restaurant feel more special.
Now, things are starting to look up in the U.S. With the vaccine becoming more and more accessible to the U.S. population, for the first time in a long time, I can say I see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“No one could have predicted the pandemic,” Nichtberger said. “No one ever knows what’s going to happen. I want to stay brick and mortar because I enjoy human interaction too much. I could make more money selling more online, but human interaction is worth more than the dollar figure.”
After this very long year, I can say I agree human interaction is invaluable. I hope one day soon we can go back to fully living and abandoning the worries we’ve adopted during this time.