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Coronavirus Forces Small Businesses To Adapt Or Die

Alsace Walentine, owner of Tombolo Books, stands outside of her store next to a sign that says "Curbside pickup here!"
Mary Shedden
WUSF Public Media
Alsace Walentine has closed the browsing floor of her bookstore and now offers online ordering and curbside pickup.

The coronavirus pandemic is not only taking its toll of the nation’s healthcare system, but also its businesses. This week, Florida Matters takes a look at small businesses, which are particularly hard hit.

Host Bradley George spoke with Alsace Walentine, co-owner of Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg and Eileen Rodriguez of the Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida.

Walentine said the cirumstances of running an independent bookstore makes shutting her sales floor especially difficult.

"It's a very, very, very scary time for many bookstores. With bookselling, there's an incredibly slim profit margin...because the price is printed on the book. So unlike other businesses, you can't set the price," she said. "You're already dealing in a limited, restricted way with your main product. And so I know a lot of folks who are really struggling."

Rodriguez said her office has been hearing from worried business owners who are looking for help. The Florida SBDC offers short-term loans and assistance to small businesses.

“The messages that we're hearing from these small business owners, they're worried. They're panicked," she said. "They're very sad, because they've had to either completely close their doors simply because there's no business coming in, or they've been mandated to do so. Or they've drastically reduced their income because of very poor turnout to their businesses.” 

But Rodriguez said she thinks small businesses are able to adapt to the situation better than large companies.

"They're retooling, they're reinventing, which is a wonderful thing for entrepreneurs. They are so nimble on their feet," Rodriguez said. "They can do that much more so than the larger corporations who have a lot of bureaucracy and obviously just can't pivot on a dime, which small businesses can certainly do so. So it'll be, I think, really interesting to see how they innovate in order to keep their folks on staff. Unfortunately, some people have not been able to do that."

Walentine said having faith in your business and the community around you is critical at an uncertain time like this.

"Staying positive is a really good foundation for all of this, but it's certainly hard," she said.

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Hi there! I’m Dinorah Prevost and I’m the producer of Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show. That basically means that I plan, record and edit the interviews we feature on the show.
Bradley George was a Morning Edition host and reporter at WUSF until March 2022.