The immediate future for small businesses in Loudoun County and beyond remains uncertain as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt consumers and their spending habits.
In the past, some of the county’s rural business owners relied on spring and summer revenue to carry them through the slower winter months. Now, many are shifting gears in hopes of surviving and eventually turning a profit again.
On Aug. 21, several local business owners shared their stories and concerns with Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.-10th) during her day-long tour through western Loudoun.
Wexton stopped at Hope Flower Farm in Waterford, Harpers Ferry Brewing in northern Hillsboro and Wild Wood restaurant in Leesburg. All three businesses have received federal financial assistance since the pandemic began, according to congressional staff.
Curtis Allred, owner of Delirium Cafe and Wild Wood Pizza in Leesburg, said one of his concerns is the confidence customers have in restaurants during the health crisis. Unless there is a massive psychological shift, he said, he fears for his business’s viability and the greater economy. He said if some customers are choosing not to sit outside during the summer, how can restaurant owners expect the customers to sit outside during the winter.
“I can have all the space I want, but if I don’t have any guests, it’s irrelevant,” Allred said.
In hopes of assisting, local economic leaders recently launched a campaign called “Loudoun is Ready” to help boost local consumer confidence.
With more than 350 local businesses on board with the pledge, owners and staff are promoting “the best health and safety practices for customers,” said leaders from Loudoun Economic Development, Visit Loudoun and the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce. The campaign started once Gov. Ralph Northam (D) allowed Loudoun and other northern Virginia jurisdictions to reopen.
Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department, recently expressed concern about the COVID-19 crisis continuing into the flu season, something he said could compound health care problems stemming from the pandemic.
Ronda Powell, co-owner of Harpers Ferry Brewing, said the flu season worries her too and that it could lead to business activity taking a step back.
“We have to figure out COVID,” Powell said while giving Wexton a tour of her business located next to the Potomac River. “My biggest concern is to make sure I’m prepared if we do go backwards. But going backwards so abruptly and quickly … I can’t prepare for that.”
In Waterford, the staff at Hope Flower Farm has coped with the pandemic downturn by growing vegetables, opening the farm to photo shoots and offering educational packages.
With fall and winter approaching, Holly and Evan Chapple, co-owners of Hope Flower Farm, say they’re already over 2020. “I can’t even endure one more thing this year,” Holly Chapple said.
After touring parts of Loudoun for several hours, Wexton said she’s impressed with how business owners have adapted to the challenges in the past few months. She said she understands their concerns.
“They’re absolutely right, because they don’t exist in a vacuum,” Wexton said. “They are one part of a big production chain and consumption chain, so there’s going to be impacts all throughout our economy as a result of the tough times they are experiencing in hospitality and restaurants.”
Wexton says she is continuing to push for transparency in the distribution of small business relief funding, and she said she wants to make sure minority-owned businesses are not shut out of the programs.
Earlier in the day, Wexton made a stop at the Keyes Gap on the Appalachian Trail to talk about the Great American Outdoors Act and conservation efforts along the trail. The act provides about $3 billion to conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks. In Virginia, it’s estimated that it will create or help support more than 10,000 jobs.