Amid pandemic, grants keep Army veteran's business afloat

Full Screen
1 / 2

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Nicole Walcott stands inside the alternative wellness center she opened three years ago in downtown Fayetteville, N.C. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The U.S. Army is confident her small business would have failed amid the coronavirus pandemic without help from non-profit grants and financial assistance. (AP Photo/Sarah Blake Morgan)

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Nicole Walcott’s lip started to quiver as she turned her misty gaze away from a reporter’s question. “I don’t want to cry on camera,” the 33-year-old said when asked why she’s fought tooth and nail to keep her small business open amid a pandemic that’s crushing countless others.

Three years ago, Walcott, a U.S. Army veteran, opened an alternative health and wellness center in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a short drive from Fort Bragg, one of the largest military installations on the planet.

It was going well, but then COVID-19 hit — a phrase that has defined the stories of so many small businesses in 2020. In fact, it's only because of nonprofits such as San Antonio, Texas-based Operation Homefront — and Walcott's determination to seek out every grant possible — that her business is still around.

Walcott's alternative health and wellness center isn't just her livelihood — it's personal. A Humvee accident while she was serving in South Korea left Walcott with a spinal cord injury and debilitating chronic pain. When traditional pain management plans didn’t suit her, she tried flotation therapy and says the pain disappeared after her first session.

Walcott couldn’t find an alternative wellness center to continue her treatment in Fayetteville, so the mother of two worked with a private investor to open one herself.

She put in 16-hour days to build her business and it was paying off.

“We were having our best year ever in 2019. We were booked all day, every day. We were open seven days a week,” she said.

The pandemic changed everything.