While many businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic are reporting stronger sales are near or comparable to 2019 levels, some owners say effects still linger along with new challenges.
Kari Seher, owner of Melt Ice Creams, has seen the ups and downs of the pandemic. Right now, her shops are busy as she calls it “the prime season” for ice cream.
Since opening in 2014, Melt Ice Creams has expanded to four shops across North Texas.
“I started making it at home, making it in my kitchen and then started telling my neighbors about making this ice cream and letting them taste. They were like, you really should open a shop,” Seher recalled.
While Seher said most of their shops have returned to 2019 sales levels, recovery has not come without challenges.
“In the course of our 8.5 years of business, we’ve only raised our prices twice. We did raise our prices just recently in January, but we’re seeing our costs go up about 8%,” she said. “We’re doing our best to mitigate that, but there’s a ceiling in which a customer wants to pay. They don’t want to pay more money, so we’re kind of getting squeezed.”
To avoid raising prices further, Seher said their business is trying things like buying more ingredients in bulk and being careful with how they spend their money. At times, they must consider forgoing certain products that have gotten too pricey, she said.
“If we’re buying a certain cup that is coming from a long ways away, then that has to come on a truck to get here, that cost of gas, that’s all included in the cost of that product,” she said. “We really don’t want to put that cost on our customers, and we’re hoping that it balances back out. There may be a time where we have to increase those prices, but we don’t want to.”
When it comes to finding balance in recovery, Seher is far from alone.
Tarrant County is weeks away from launching a new grant program aimed at assisting small businesses recovering from the effects of the pandemic. County commissioners have allocated $25 million in federal funding to assist small businesses.
Lisa McMillan, the assistant county administrator for Tarrant County, said they are specifically focused on workforce recovery efforts including retention, recruitment, training and development.
“We expect the $25 million the County Commissioners Court has allocated will go fast,” McMillan said. “The pay scale has gone up. Some people are wanting to offer bonuses, sign-on bonuses so those funds can be used for any of those types of workforce needs.”
Impacted small businesses that had 50 or fewer employees during the first quarter of 2020 can apply for grant amounts up to $27,500 based on eligibility requirements and the number of employees.
While Seher said small business owners like her’s consider how they’re spending their money, she is asking the community to do the same.
“If there is a coffee shop that you love, that is your coffee shop. Spend your money there versus going to a big corporate. Spend your money at an ice cream shop, where we know the people behind the counter,” she said. “You never know, if you don’t support them, and maybe your neighbor doesn’t support them, it might not be the boost that you need to get through this season.”
Applications for the new grant program through Tarrant County will open at noon July 11. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Aug. 31, or when funds are depleted.
Applications will be processed in the order they are received.