The only thing tougher than the challenges that have faced U.S. small businesses since the start of COVID-19 is the grit, tenacity and creativity of some of the owners who have swiftly modified their business models to forge ahead with fortitude and optimism. Some have been radical, others more subtle and nuanced, all spending every day rethinking and fine-tuning.

While quite geographically diverse and all serving a different consumer, the five businesses profiled below all reflect the realities the small business community is struggling with during this difficult time.

 christine miller of two chicks walking tours
Christine Miller, founder and CEO of Two Chicks Walking Tours in New Orleans, Louisiana. — Two Chicks Walking Tours

Christine Miller, founder & CEO, Two Chicks Walking Tours

"COVID devastated my business and my industry. Walking tours were not in the same league as, let's say, pharmacies or groceries. I initially grappled with canceling tours, refunded all sales for future activities plus communicated with my employees on the various operational concerns. At this time, I'm the only person left and with the inconsistent business environment, I haven't resumed leading tours. I plan to return when public safety concerns are managed. I'm currently focusing some energy on developing my social media presence and researching new content for future tours. The future of my business relies on the enduring spirit of New Orleans and I have no doubt that visitors will return." Follow Two Chicks Walking Tours on Instagram: @2chickswalking.

 Darin Feldman and Kevin Plein a-game sports
Darin Feldman and Kevin Plein, co-owners of A-Game Sports in New Rochelle, New York. — A-Game Sports

Darin Feldman and Kevin Plein, co-owners, A-Game Sports

"Our 25,000-square-foot sports facility located in New Rochelle, New York’s initial epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, was forced to shut its doors on March 15th. Since our January 2016 opening, A-GAME SPORTS has been a venue for private and group sports instruction, field space rentals, camps, birthday parties and various special events including bar and bat mitzvahs, school field trips and large group reunions. However, in light of the many restrictions placed on businesses with respect to crowd capacity and social distancing, much of what we do has to be scaled back in terms of number of people as well as the frequency with which we offer our services to manage facility sanitization requirements. All of this has made the business outlook for A-GAME SPORTS a bit uncertain.

Despite this setback, we have managed to alter and expand our business model to help generate revenue that offsets some of the losses in our traditional business. Specifically, we are now offering private as well as group lessons virtually through Zoom. In addition, we are now doing lessons outdoors and are also offering small group recreational summer sports fun programs right in our clients’ backyards. Finally, many camps that we originally had scheduled indoors before the pandemic hit have now been rescheduled and relocated to outdoor venues. Overall, we are trying to capitalize on the great reputation A-GAME SPORTS coaches have by making them accessible in any setting that our clients feel is most comfortable." Follow A-Game Sports on Instagram: @agamesports.

 Tal and Eran Mor of veggie carriage
Tal and Eran Mor, co-owners of Veggie Carriage in Collingswood, New Jersey. — Veggie Carriage

Tal Mor and Eran Mor, co-founders and co-owners, Veggie Carriage

"We started as a wholesale produce company selling mostly to restaurants, however with the pandemic starting and our partner businesses closing down, we had to pivot and rethink our business model. We immediately realized a responsibility as local business owners to help our community and we started offering home deliveries. Through word of mouth, local Facebook groups and friends and family, the word spread very quickly and we had a staggering number of orders in the first five weeks. It was really overwhelming. We accept orders until 9 p.m. and at 3 a.m. I source produce for the day. Within hours later, it arrives at customers’ doorsteps. I have had people receive asparagus the day the farmers pulled the crops.

We have had a few obstacles along the way, but overall it has been a great experience and I believe we have helped a lot of the vulnerable and elderly within our community. In recent weeks, we have had to pivot once again as we have seen a decrease in demand in our business as people venture out more, specifically to supermarkets. We have decided to expand beyond produce and offer our customers more, including nuts, dried food, natural beverages and gluten-free items. In addition, with the help of a few locals here, we are now able to offer masks and hand sanitizers at really affordable prices." Follow Veggie Carriage on Instagram: @veggiecarriage.

 employees in conference room at Will Technology, Inc.
The team at WILL Technology Inc., in Huntsville, Alabama. — Will Technology, Inc.

Crystal Shell, president & CEO, WILL Technology, Inc.

"As a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) supporting federal government agencies, WILL Technology, Inc.’s (WTI) experience with maintaining business as usual during the pandemic is somewhat unique. While so many organizations have suffered financially, our most difficult challenge has been identifying workarounds to accommodate regulations that preclude contractor personnel from being on-site during the absence of government personnel. We have had to overcome intricate scheduling issues to ensure that there were no breaks in continuity of service, especially for those contracts that are deemed mission-critical and/or mission-essential.

For approximately eight weeks immediately following the COVID-19 onset, we also encountered instances where we were unable to conduct face-to-face interviews. Candidates often expressed fear of being in typical, face-to-face interview settings. As a result, our turnaround time to fill vacancies was drastically extended. Despite these occurrences, we were well-equipped for the pivotal role that telework has played since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic by already having in place a proven teleworking policy. Another intriguing complexity was assisting some of our government customers in maximizing the benefits of remote working solutions. For example, in addition to utilizing our state-of-the art video-teleconferencing (VTC) system as a collaboration tool for our teleworking personnel, we also encouraged our government customers to stay connected by hosting virtual video conferences, informal meetings and progress reviews." Follow WILL Technology on LinkedIn.

 wendy hesslink of leerform
Wendy Hesslink, partner at LEERFORM in Brooklyn, New York. — LEERFORM

Wendy Hesslink, partner, LEERFORM

"LEERFORM is a small fabrication business located in the East Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. Catering to the museum industry of NYC, we build and install components essential to putting together an exhibition. Our wood shop fabricates custom crates for exhibitions to travel overseas as well as pedestals, furniture and wall treatments. Our metal shop creates artifact mounts, sculptural armatures and architectural ornamentation. Pre-COVID-19, our team could typically be found installing artwork in a museum or back at the shop building.

During the onset of the coronavirus in New York in March, we shut our doors along with the rest of the city. We all worked from home, having Zoom meetings, taking QuickBooks classes and taking the opportunity to enhance our website. After getting updates from our museum network, it was very obvious we were not getting back into any institutions anytime soon. We had to pivot. In order for our colleagues to get back to work, people needed to feel safe and LEERFORM started it’s foray into PPE containment systems. We had worked with Plexiglas over our years in the business, but not for this purpose. We pulled the trigger on ordering materials. Assembly hardware was in high demand, so we started making some of our own. We have since fabricated protective solutions for art galleries, retail businesses and schools. We had never envisioned creating work like this. We have certainly gained new skills in the process. We brainstormed with clients who never anticipated needing this type of work. It has been and continues to be truly amazing to see the grit and outside-the-box thinking in which the whole city has engaged in order to create essential products for our community. We are lucky to have been involved in the process." Follow LEERFORM on Instagram: @leerformteam.

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