Driving through southwest Virginia, main streets look much different than they did a year ago. Business closures have left empty storefronts and for sale signs in windows and customers now are mostly wearing face masks or coverings.
As 2021 begins, business owners face a rapidly shifting landscape. The change is something owner Carrie Poff of Brown Hound Tree service in Roanoke knows all too well.
“We’ve all been slammed, from plumbers to contractors to our tree service,” Poff said.
While the pandemic has created many challenges for the business, the demand for services like hers has increased — especially when at-home orders were in place. But business is different, and the way many business owners operate is different too. They’ve had to adapt.
Those adaptations, often consisting of implementing new COVID-19 safety measures, cost money.
As vaccinations begin, an end to the pandemic is in sight, but business owners say the slow pace of inoculations has delayed the turnaround they have been counting on. Despite government assistance, the goal for many remains to simply hang on. Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the topic in this year’s State of the Commonwealth address.
“We need to take action to protect jobs, especially in small businesses. We all know our small businesses need a lot of help to make it through the pandemic. The restaurants, the small gyms, the barbershops and thousands of other small businesses that are struggling to keep the doors open,” Northam said.
Annette Patterson, president of the Advancement Foundation in Vinton, said state reports show a reduction in tax revenue.
“We know that a lot of that is coming from small to medium-sized businesses. So they are suffering,” Patterson said.
Patterson says that when local businesses suffer, we all suffer.
“Everywhere you turn, they (business owners) are renting or buying space in the community. They are buying supplies from the community. They are hiring in the community. So, they are the backbone. They are the lifeblood in our community, and if we don’t support them, they won’t be here,” Patterson said.
That’s why Patterson’s focus is supporting local entrepreneurs starting and building their businesses through the Gauntlet Business program and competition.
The Gauntlet incorporates participants from Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Botetourt County, the Alleghany Highlands and Rockbridge County. New this year, the program and competition will expand to include Bedford County, the town of Bedford, Big Island, Chamblissburg, Coleman Falls, Forest, Goode, Goodview, Hardy, Huddleston, Moneta, Montvale, New London and Thaxton.
Patterson said the Gauntlet has engaged 250 community mentors and raised cash and in-kind awards totaling more than $1.2 million since its inception 7 years ago.
This year, more than 100 entrepreneurs from across southwest Virginia showed up for the first night of class. The program is rebuilding business in our community at a time when it’s more important than ever.
“We have to put our money where our mouth is and support our local businesses,” Patterson said.
The Gauntlet teaches entrepreneurs from any background how to create a business plan, and provides those who complete the program with cash and or in-kind prizes to get their business started or to help expand existing businesses.
Even though the first class was on Feb. 9, those interested can still sign up before next week’s class. Those interested can sign up online. For more information, interested entrepreneurs, mentors, sponsors, and community leaders can visit here.