As the holiday season gets underway, small business owners are asking the community to not forget them for their shopping needs, from personal services to items you won't find in many other places.
Down the street from one of Central Texas' biggest businesses sits a collection of some of its smallest. Businesses at Temple's Pecan Plaza Shopping Center have had trouble keeping up as consumer spending went down.
Why Pecan Plaza? Because this shopping center is a microcosm of American small businesses. There's as little bit of everything here.
But even as Texas begins to slowly rebound from disaster, trouble is beginning again with spikes in coronavirus cases.
This small collection of small businesses, largely without help, has hung its collective hopes on the holiday shopping season to help them survive.
"Whatever we can do to help small businesses is very important. And the reason is the longer this pandemic lasts, the harder it is for small businesses to to hang on," said Pia Orrenius from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Businesses like Zooty's, Paperdoodles and Joe's Pizza and Pasta hope their customers give them the gift of life by returning for some shopping.
”We also offer boxes of Kleenex when people cry, and I think all of us have done that this year,” said Amy Thomas, of Zootie's Boutique, a dress shop.
One reason for the tears? The numbers and potential damage to the economy do not sound pretty. A 2012 report from the State of Texas counted more than two million small businesses operating with almost all of them employing less than 100 people. The report went on to say those businesses had an impact on the Texas economy to the tune of more than $1 trillion.
In a very Texan way, these shops say they're not giving up without a fight.
”A lot of grit and tenacity, and we're not going to throw in the towel,” said Thomas.
Economists say consumer spending will decide if these business succeed or not.
”Because I think at the end of the day, it's the spending by the consumer, the income to the worker, that's going to really keep those small businesses afloat, so we're all connected in the economy, and it really is the virus disrupting this connection," said Orrenius.
”We lose small business, we lose personal service," said Thomas.
When one small business folds, if often affects others.
"Basically, because they come from the different owners. They come up with ideas they've seen their children draw pictures... they want you to look at their items and be happy. So it's nice for us, as a small business, to also bring in another family-owned small business here in our shop, which is kind of what it's about in the small business. We want to have unique pieces," said Alice Winders of Zooty's.
These business owners say they don't consider defeat an option.
They've fought hard to carve this niche, to offer a higher level of service than you'll see in most places, and they'll defend it with everything they've got.
”I think why we really do it is because we love people,” said Thomas.
As the holiday shopping season gets underway, those who own small businesses are asking the community to consider shopping with them in-person, online or even over the phone
Sal Metaliaha opened Joe's Pizza & Pasta to offer Texas mom-and-pop-style Italian dining complete with more.
"There's a personal touch. There's just something about the success of small business, entrepreneurs, people, families that have been doing it for generations," said Stephanie Vincent of Temple.
Now, Metaliaha is barely making ends meet. COVID-19 has shrunk his crowds, and rising prices threaten the viability of his business almost every day.
”Cheese price goes really high. Meat, they go high. Some of the produce, they go high. And that's what's killed us, we can play with them,” he said.
He and other business owners at Temple's Pecan Plaza need customers to come back properly covered and distanced, but have so far only seen a trickle,.
”I need customers to come back and actually I'm looking from now until the spring to survive and staying open as a business. I'm not looking for profits,” Metaliaha said.
The restaurant owner says he's protected the jobs of everyone so far, but doesn't know how much longer he can.
"All the workers. I cannot I cannot fire no one because, you know, I feel bad. I didn't... I didn't need all of them. Still, I keep them.” Metaliaha said.
He gives them a few hours to keep a little money coming in.
He knows their families, like that of one of his servers.
"She have three kids and single mom. I cannot tell her. I didn't have because she... she doesn't have so many options, so I keep trying to survive for me, for everybody and I hope get them better. So all I ask is support local businesses," Metaliaha said.
A few have heard his pleas and have come to help.
”I personally have been probably going to small businesses more, I think they're vital to our country or community,” said Vincent.
Metaliaha and the other business owners at Pecan Plaza say they need many, many more this holiday season so they can at least make it into the new year, when they hope a vaccine can give them a new lease on life.
Until then, businesses are forced to adapt.
Suzie Winkler found ways to make her stationery and gift store, Paperdoodles, more relevant in the age of COVID-`19.
Even during the shutdown, she stayed busy and tried to stay ahead of the curve.
"I came back to the store. Of course the door was locked, clean the floor, and then all of a sudden, you're not doing those things. You're sitting at home and you're looking at your bank account," said Winkler.
A bank account that kept getting smaller. Re-opening helped.
”Love to come in the shop for the service and the merchandise. It's all good quality and service is great,” said Deborah Jones of Belton.
These days, Paperdoodles has shifted by taking orders online, in-person, and even on the phone.
"One of the ladies in particular wanted Christmas cards, so I stood there, and she was an elderly lady, and had her describe the outside of the box and describe what it said on it,” said Winkler.
Winkler's biggest fans say her helpful ways are what keep them coming back.
”And we need small businesses. I do not order from Amazon or eBay at all. I can always find something different. Everybody doesn't have the same thing,” said Jones.
In the age of COVID-19, Winkler and every small business are working harder than ever to keep their businesses going.