For all the hardships faced by small businesses, many owners are using this tumultuous time for introspection while they reassess and refine their operations. In doing so, they have discovered many upsides, from finding inspiration in unexpected ways to tapping into a personal passion, creativity or tech savviness they didn't know existed. For many, like the five below, these bright spots are fueling their optimism and helping to identify new areas of opportunity.

 interior of hub city writer's project
The Spartanburg, South Carolina-based Hub City bookstore is known for its mission of cultivating readers and nurturing writers. — Hub City Writer's Project

Anne Waters, executive director, Hub City Writer’s Project

Who we are: A literary arts organization comprised of an Independent small press, community bookstore, and writer-focused programming based in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

When COVID-19 struck, it effectively shuttered the three entities that comprise the Hub City Writers Project: our community bookshop, our independent press, and our writing workshops and conference. While the literary arts have suffered nothing like the performing arts, our business model was heavily reliant upon authors connecting with readers in person. So, what is our silver lining? Virtual events, of course. The Hub City Bookshop now hosts two to four virtual events weekly, including author readings, books clubs, writers-in-conversation and even cocktail parties. Likewise, the authors whose books were published by the Hub City Press this year have found broader audiences by being unencumbered by travel constraints. We have found that hosting workshops virtually has not diminished their appeal; and, in fact, attendance has doubled and even tripled. Follow Hub City on Instagram: @hubcitywriters; Facebook: @hubcitywritersproject; & Twitter: @hubcitybookshop/@hubcitypress.

 food display by big brunch box
One of the many customizable brunch boxes hand-picked and hand-delivered by Manhattan, New York-based Big Brunch Box. — Big Brunch Box

Allen Dalton, founder, Big Brunch Box

Who we are: A Manhattan, New York-based company offering premium brunch and deli boxes delivered to your door.

During the pandemic, I reminisced about my childhood and the importance of sharing meals together — something that has been especially difficult since March. My grandfather, Sol, owned a fish and appetizer shop, and on Sundays he would take a rare break from work to have my grandmother, mother, sister and I all sit around the kitchen table to eat, talk and spend the afternoon together. Sol always encouraged me to critique the thinly sliced fish he had hand carved, and to describe the flavors of the pickled herring and lox he made from scratch. That was the inspiration for Big Brunch Box, which provides contactless delivery of gourmet brunch foods and more. Big Brunch Box initially started with brunch goodies but now offers products from iconic brands, such as Carnegie Deli and Acme Fish Company. I knew it would be awhile before we could ‘do brunch’ and enjoy our favorite foods with extended family and friends, but at least this way, you could enjoy it at home, even if you have to quarantine. Follow Big Brunch Box on Instagram: @bigbrunchbox & Facebook: @bigbrunchbox.

[Editor’s note: Big Brunch Box is a business that was started during the COVID-19 pandemic.]

 grapes at a vineyard
Local vineyards are among the destinations those in search of safer travel experiences are flocking to according to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based Cruise Planners. — Cruise Planners

Alison Schwartz, travel advisor, Cruise Planners

Who we are: A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based full-service travel agency specializing in domestic and international destinations.

It has been a very difficult time for the travel industry worldwide. The silver linings of the pandemic have been getting to spend a lot more quality time with my family, explore places virtually and assist people who want to travel locally. If you are willing to be a bit more creative, you can still pursue your wanderlust — either online or close to home. New Jersey-based Auburn Road Winery, for example, has been able to stay open under the new guidelines, and you are able to do wine flights while having a delicious wood-fired pizza in their beautiful setting adjacent to the vines. We will all be traveling again to our favorite vineyards and beyond when it is safe!

 olivia moglino, founder of liv nut free
Olivia Moglino, founder and CEO of Shrewsbury, New Jersey-based nut-free bakery, Liv Nut Free. — Liv Nut Free

Olivia Moglino, founder & CEO, Liv Nut Free

Who we are: A peanut- and tree-nut-free small-batch bakery based in Shrewsbury, New Jersey.

Serving my customers and fulfilling orders during the pandemic restored my sense of human connection during unprecedented and collectively isolating times. While this pandemic restricted people from going about their everyday lives to buy safe baked goods in stores, a resultant silver lining for Liv Nut Free is we were able to reach more homes nationwide with our online platform. We are so grateful that we were able to maintain business throughout the pandemic and continue to serve the nut-free community nationwide. Follow Liv Nut Free on Instagram: @livnutfree & Facebook: @livnutfree.

 flyer for On The Other Side LLC
Supporting cancer patients with knowledge, care and compassion is the mission of St. Paul, Minnesota-based On The Other Side. — On The Other Side, LLC

Talaya Dendy, owner & cancer doula, On The Other Side LLC

Who we are: A St. Paul, Minnesota-based provider of personalized support services that address the emotional, navigational, educational and practical needs of people living with cancer.

When the pandemic started, I had no idea that behind the headlines and frustration of trying to find basic necessities at the store, it would bring much needed rest and reflection. What I have found to be the silver linings of the pandemic are having time to learn new skills in my personal and professional life, having the time to improve my business processes, implementing more automation and bringing people together via Zoom who may not otherwise have met each other for free monthly support and educational virtual get-togethers. I have connected with people all over the world, had more time to reflect on what was working and what was not, been more creative and spent more time thinking outside the box and got really clear on what was serving my vision (the people that I serve) and what was not. This helped me to say, “no” more and not feel bad about it. Self-care is the ultimate silver lining and it has led me to doing more of the things that I love, not feel so rushed and spend more time with my loved ones. Follow On The Other Side on Instagram: @ontheotherside17; Facebook: @ontheothersidecancerdoula; & LinkedIn: @ontheotherside.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Follow us on Instagram for more expert tips & business owners stories.

Applications are open for the CO—100! Now is your chance to join an exclusive group of outstanding small businesses. Share your story with us — apply today.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Apply for the CO—100!

The CO—100 is an exclusive list of the 100 best and brightest small and mid-sized businesses in America. Enter today to share your story and get recognized.