Small businesses support community, each other amid pandemic

Support for local businesses during the pandemic helped TheraPie expand its reach. (Photo Courtesy of TheraPie)

Small businesses took a huge blow this year because of economic factors accompanying the pandemic. As a result, they were forced to find new ways to appeal to the Manhattan community.

On the north end of town near Cico Park, TheraPie is owned and operated by Tiffany Oppelt. The business’ roots trace back to Oppelt‘s childhood when her grandmother, Thera Fern, taught her to make pies. Now, TheraPie a licensed home bakery with a rotating menu of various pies.

“The business was named not only for my grandma, Thera, but also for the therapy pies provide,” Oppelt said. “From making, to sharing it with yourself or your loved ones, to remembering your favorite pie makers. Especially in 2020, we firmly believe that everyone needs a little TheraPie.”

TheraPie started out as a side gig for Oppelt, but when the pandemic hit, she saw an opportunity to start making pies full-time.

“Business was picking up, and I decided that if I really put my energy behind it, I could keep spreading pie love and help provide the income we needed for our family,” Oppelt said.

Online and social media marketing, selling pies at a local restaurant and offering delivery during the initial lockdown all helped TheraPie grow in the trying early days of the pandemic. The most important ingredient in the business’ success, Oppelt said, was making pies that would make people happy.

Owning and operating TheraPie became a full-time job for Oppelt during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of TheraPie)
Owning and operating TheraPie became a full-time job for Oppelt during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of TheraPie)

“With more and more people looking online and wanting to support local, it actually helped our business to grow,” she said.

Gina Scroggs, executive director for Downtown Manhattan, Inc., said shopping locally is vital to sustaining the local economy.

“This year, the data is indicating that for every 100 dollars you spend locally, 68 of those 100 dollars stays right here in this community,” Scroggs said. “Small businesses make up 60 percent of all businesses in America and 65 percent of the workforce. I mean, it’s incredible the impact that small businesses have on America. We are the backbone, essentially.”

To adapt to lack of in-person traffic, Scroggs said businesses have had to create an online presence where it may not have existed before.

“A lot of small business have jumped quickly to get an e-commerce site,” Scroggs said. “God forbid, further restrictions or another shut down of any kind, they would be more prepared and more capable to continue to conduct business via online. That really has been a blessing and a long time coming. It has been a sort of silver lining of COVID because, honestly, we’ve long had to combat Amazon.”

One business in Manhattan quickly discovered its online presence in a creative way.

G. Thomas Jewelers, a full-service jewelry store that has served the Manhattan community since 1963, is owned by Bobbi French.

French said the economic toll of the pandemic left her business with just the skeleton of a crew, but the group worked to expand business opportunities in the trying circumstances.

“We collectively came together and took a look at what we had in the store, what we could do with it and what we could turn it into,” French said. “We started creating pieces, photographing pieces, putting them online and making an entirely new business model, which is upcycled limited edition custom pieces backed by a brick and mortar jewelry store.”

Paige 2, a new store by G. Thomas Jewelers, is an online shop that hosts the custom creations of G. Thomas Jewelers’ staff.

“An actual e-commerce store was totally new to us,” French said. “For a long time, we had a shopping cart on our store website, but it wasn’t really utilized, probably because of the price point and the nature of what we sell which is fine jewelry. Because this is all upcycled goods, we sell for considerably less than what we would get them for from a manufacturer, so we were able to produce the goods, put them online and sell them for a lot less than it would be if we got it from a national manufacturer.”

From utilizing the internet to completely reconstructing business models, local shops like G. Thomas Jewelers and TheraPie are finding ways to thrive in one of the most difficult years to conduct business. Some have even found ways to support each other.

Oppelt echoed Scroggs’ sentiment that shopping locally is crucial, and her business model reflects this value.

“I buy the honey to sweeten my pies from a local market vendor RemeBees,” Oppelt said. “I buy my branded stickers for my pie boxes from Super Cub. I buy produce from Britt’s Farm and A&H Farm. I hire part-time employees from our community. All of those people go on to use that money to reinvest in their business and in other businesses and to feed their families and to make our community a better place.”

Local businesses are about paying it forward to the community, Oppelt said, and she hopes TheraPie can continue to pay it forward in the years to come.

“When we have extra, we give what we can, and we sink it back into this town,” Oppelt said. “That is what shopping local means.”