inside of a wine and liquor store
From grocery and liquor stores to cleaning and delivery service companies, there are a select few industries that are benefiting from the limitations stemming from COVID-19. — Getty Images/urbancow

With the U.S. business landscape radically changing in the past several months due to the coronavirus, the majority of stories people are seeing concern businesses that are closing, losing revenue and laying off workers. However, some small businesses have proven to be uniquely suited to the COVID-19 crisis and have seen an uptick in demand.

With all kinds of businesses creatively learning to adapt to coronavirus, it should come as no surprise that some traditional businesses have seen success in this new landscape as well. Businesses that help people socially distance themselves from others, retailers that enable people to eat and drink at home and health care services are primary examples.

Here's a list of small business types that are seeing strong demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cleaning services

With the spread of coronavirus fears around the country, it should come as no surprise that professional cleaning services that sanitize offices, restaurants and homes are in high demand. Cleaning companies, such as Columbus, Ohio-based Corporate Cleaning Inc., said demand has increased substantially for commercial buildings and medical facilities in light of COVID-19.

"We’ve never experienced anything like this before in our lives and especially not in our business," said Crystal Hughey, co-owner of Corporate Cleaning told Columbus Business First. "A lot of people are counting on us being smart and keeping them safe."’

UniStar Cleaning Service in Manchester, N.H. has had business pick up so much that they’ve hired several additional workers. "Our clients want more frequent deep cleaning," UniStar co-owner Ryan Van Orden told NECN. "We are hiring to make sure we can deal with the demand."

Delivery services

With many consumers afraid to leave their homes or being advised by state governments to shelter in place during the coronavirus crisis, professional delivery services have stepped up to make sure goods can be delivered to homes and businesses. While nationwide food delivery services and corporate retail deliveries have been the largest beneficiary, local delivery services such as GrubSouth in Huntsville, Alabama are also seeing strong demand.

Madeline Sandlin, director of business development for GrubSouth, told WAFF 48 News that the company had recently hired 30 new drivers and added many new restaurants. They also said they are still looking for more drivers to help meet rising demand.

Drive-in movie theaters

One of the most peculiar small business categories that have recently seen success in the coronavirus era is drive-in movie theaters. With standard movie theaters seen as less safe (most are now closed) because they encourage hundreds of people to gather in small spaces, drive-in theaters allow people to take in a show from their own car and provide a way for families to get out of the house.

Owners of drive-in theaters in California, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri all told the Los Angeles Times recently that business had increased in light of coronavirus. While it’s not clear if these drive-in theaters will remain open as many “non-essential businesses” are closed, the coronavirus crisis may reinvigorate these types of businesses in a new period where keeping your distance is encouraged.

Grocery stores

With the general public practicing “social distancing” and many U.S. states closing restaurant dining rooms, more families are stocking up on goods and eating at home. This has led to large and small grocers alike to see surges in customer demand.

Greg Ferrara, president of the National Grocers Association — which represents more than 8,500 U.S. stores — told ABC News recently that smaller grocers have played a unique role in these trying times. He noted that “independent grocers are helping larger chains meet demand during this time and that grocery stores are being restocked at unprecedented speeds.”

The CEO of Stew Leonard's, a grocery chain with seven supermarkets in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, told Fox News recently that its goods had been flying off the shelves. Some of the store’s top sellers have been toilet paper, hand sanitizer, pizza and chicken.

Liquor and wine stores

With many bars closed around the United States due to COVID-19, local liquor and wine stores have dramatically increased sales. JD Phelps, store manager at New York City’s Vintage Grape Wines & Spirits, told Bloomberg that it’s been difficult to keep up with demand in the past few weeks with people wanting to stock up at home.

Additionally, Mike Thompson, owner of B&B Liquor in Macomb, Michigan, told MLive.com that customers are “buying in mass hysteria,” with people buying liquor to make hand sanitizer or buying because they are afraid they’ll “get locked in.”

Meal prep delivery services

Many of the top brands for meal preparation and delivery are skyrocketing due to people spending more time at home and less at restaurants. Taking advantage of this trend, several small businesses that offer meal prep and delivery are also seeing increased demand.

Eat Clean Bro, a Freehold, New Jersey-based meal prep and delivery service, has seen a surge in orders from new and returning customers. “This time of year, we’re very busy so we’re prepared to handle an influx of orders,” Jamie Giovinazzo, owner and founder told NJ.com. “Our orders are up 40%. We’re just guns blazing with orders.”

Canned and jarred goods companies

With many people wanting to stock up on canned and jarred food, small businesses that manufacture these goods are seeing more business. Charlotte, North Carolina’s Cannizzaro Sauces, for example, has seen a lot of new sales for its fresh tomato sauce.

Randy and Melanie Tritten, owners of Cannizzaro Sauces, told the Associated Press that they realized they had a large opportunity when shelves of pasta sauces were completely cleared out at their local grocery stores.

Game makers and sellers

With the novel coronavirus forcing many people to stay at home instead of going out, small businesses that create board games and puzzles are popular since they help entertain families. Craig Marney, store manager at Good Games Chicago, told the Chicago Sun-Times that board games and puzzles were selling well, especially the timely cooperative board game Pandemic. Additionally, small video game makers that work on creative titles for children are seeing an uptick in demand with many kids unable to attend school.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to socially distance and avoid public transit, it has also sharply increased demand for used cars that offer safe spaces away from strangers.

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Fitness equipment companies

With many gyms closed across the U.S., Americans have turned to home gyms in order to help them stay fit during the coronavirus crisis. While yoga mat purchases are likely the number one purchase for many working out at home, other fitness products are seeing success.

Small-but-growing tech startups that offer internet-connected fitness equipment are thriving, such as Ergatta, FightCamp, Mirror and Tonal. These services allow users to receive live or recorded instruction from experts that are then paired with proprietary equipment designed to fit into your home gym or spare room.

Landscaping and yard care companies

As more people than ever are stuck at home due to coronavirus fears, homeowners have much more time to tend to their lawns and gardens. As such, landscaping and general yard care companies are seeing unseasonably good business.

Allwood Recyclers, a small landscaping and materials company in Fairview, Oregon, told KATU that since people have been ordered or encouraged to stay at home, demand has been constant. “It’s kind of all hands on deck right now,” Tyler Wright, yard manager at Allwood Recyclers, said. “Normally, our truck doesn’t start delivering like this until May, but it started this week and we are going from 7:30 to 4 p.m. daily. We probably have about 12 to 15 deliveries a day.”

Bread-baking companies

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed more people to spend time at home cooking and baking, making all sorts of new recipes. One part of this new trend is specifically baking bread, which is helping Americans alleviate stress and tap into their creativity. In turn, companies that enable the baking of bread have seen their demand sharply increase, including makers of flour and yeast.

“We are aware that Red Star Yeast is difficult to find through online sources and in stores everywhere,” Milwaukee-based Red Star Yeast said on its website. “The current demand is simply unprecedented. Rest assured, we are filling orders and shipping product every day to stores."

Coffee subscription companies

With many consumers unable to buy coffee in person because shops are closed or they are hesitant to leave their homes, coffee companies that offer home delivery are seeing increased demand. These providers include those who ship freshly roasted beans, pre-packaged cold brew and other variations.

In particular, coffee subscription companies that deliver new beans weekly or monthly are getting a lot more attention from consumers. Companies including Mistobox, Trade Coffee and Yes Plz Coffee are beneficiaries in the social distancing world. Additionally, some coffee shops that have been closed storefronts have been able to generate new revenue streams by delivering beans, including many shops in coffee-dependent New York City.

Gardening suppliers

With so many people at home and the weather beginning to get warmer around the U.S., home gardening has gained new popularity. People are growing their own fruits, vegetables and plants because it can be a little scary to go to the grocery store, supply is constrained at stores, and there’s simply more time to try your hand at being a green thumb. Naturally, gardening companies including seed providers are booming.

The Hudson Valley Seed Co., based in New York, has seen web-based demand increase five-fold in the past month. “The greatest spike in interest has come from people taking food security into their own hands, mostly first-time customers that are gardening,” Jack Whettam, Hudson Valley Seed Co. sales manager, told The Morning Call. “Usually, we see vegetable and flower sales split fairly evenly, though at this time we’ve seen a much greater interest in vegetable seeds, especially high-calorie types like potatoes, corn, beans, and squash."

Mask makers

While mask-making wasn’t exactly in high demand at the beginning of 2020, just a few months later it has become a popular choice for new entrepreneurs. Americans all over the country want to obtain high-quality (and in some cases creative) masks to protect themselves and those around them.

For example, Seattle-based reusable gift-wrap company Tokki has pivoted its company and redirected all of its cloth inventory to masks. Tokki has seen incredibly high demand since moving to mask-making. Additionally, 20,000 shops on the e-commerce marketplace Etsy are now selling masks, showing how fast this market is heating up.

Telehealth services

In the era of COVID-19, many people don’t want to leave their homes unless it is absolutely necessary, and they especially don’t want to go to medical offices where they could be exposed to the novel coronavirus. Thus, telehealth companies that allow patients to see doctors or therapists via their computers or phones have become more popular, increasing an estimated 50% nationwide.

Boston-based telemedicine technology company Amwell, for example, said it has recently seen more than five times the volume it experiences during peak flu season. “In the past seven days we were 624% higher than our expected volume for this week,” Mike Baird, President of Customers Solutions at Amwell, told the Orlando Sentinel. “We have seen multiple large health systems come to us and say, "I want to enroll 2,000 or 1,000 providers [quickly].”

Tutoring businesses

With many schools around the U.S. shifting from in-person learning to online for some or all instruction, some parents are concerned their children will fall behind during the transition. One way parents are working to keep their kids’ education on track is the hiring of private tutors. These businesses, sometimes with multiple tutors or sometimes sole proprietors, are seeing more demand.

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Kern Tutoring is one such business, and it is hiring new tutors to meet demand. "[Parents] understand their child will be doing distance learning and there are barriers for teachers teaching virtually so they want to supplement they want to make sure their child is getting the individual attention that some students need," Gustavo Luna, owner of Kern Tutoring, told 23ABC News. “We are continuing to provide in-person tutoring for those that want to come in. We are strict on regulations and requirements and we are following the recommendations of the public health department and adding to that. We will service one or two students here at a time. But most of our services will be provided via Zoom.”

Used car sellers

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to socially distance and avoid public transit, it has also sharply increased demand for used cars that offer safe spaces away from strangers. Other factors driving up used car interest include low inventory of new cars, low interest rates and people wanting to spend less cash on cars due to economic uncertainty.

As such, used car sellers like Minnesota-based Walser Automotive Group have seen a surge in interest. “Used cars are in top demand right now,” Walser Chief Merchandising Officer Colton Ray told KARE11. “We facilitate the ability to start the transaction online and actually even finish it. We do not require our customers to come to our dealerships to sign out or finish the paperwork on their purchase and we will actually bring the vehicle to them.”

Behavioral health providers

With COVID-19 causing many types of life disruptions such as job losses and social isolation, cases of anxiety and depression across the U.S. have risen as well. To help address this, behavioral and mental health providers have stepped up to provide more services, especially those that are online.

Virtual therapy apps such as Talkspace are seeing more demand and even post-pandemic, these types of services will likely remain popular because of their accessibility and flexibility. In fact, digital behavioral health startups have also spiked in interest among investors, attracting $588 million in funding in the first half of 2020, whereas the same segment of startups reached $539 million in all of 2019.

Furniture sellers

With more people spending time at home seemingly than ever due to COVD-19, furniture sales have increased to help people make living rooms, patios, and home offices more comfortable. Laura Sproul, owner of Sproul’s Furniture in Newcastle, Maine, reopened her store for in-person business at the end of May and told the Lincoln County News that sales have increased substantially. “They spent enough time in their house and decided they should buy something new,” Sproul said. “If they’re going to be home, they might as well have their home look good.”

Home health companies

Demand for home health providers was already increasing before COVID-19, but the pandemic has pushed more people to take advantage of it as they avoid non-emergency hospital and doctor visits. Home health is also being seen as an alternative to long-term care homes that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Indianapolis-based home health care company Senior Helpers told CBS4 Indy recently that it has 100 people working in homes and is looking to hire 50 more to meet new demands.

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Published March 24, 2020