Queens businesses pivoting amid the pandemic


Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As with businesses elsewhere in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has left companies in Queens County scrambling to adjust and become more lean and efficient.

Strict provincial pandemic regulations motivated residents to shop local. The South Queens Chamber of Commerce is determined that they continue to do so.

While at least some local businesses, such as Liverpool's Main & Mersey Home Store and Coffee Bar and Lloyoll Prefabs in Brooklyn, are managing to pivot toward continued prosperity.

Kerry Morash, the chamber's president, suggested that most businesses in Liverpool so far have been able to ride out the pandemic. But like those elsewhere they're looking forward to a new start.

"A lot of the businesses went above and beyond the rules and regulations that had been set out by the province – sanitation, masks, everything," he said. "Businesses were very vigilant and made consumers feel as comfortable as possible."

Morash is among others in anticipating that the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine will be a shot in the arm of local business.

"Once they get started with the vaccinations, I'm hopeful things will ramp up after that and we will have a brighter 2021," he said.

Meanwhile, business owners such as Shani Beadle of Main & Mersey Home Store and Coffee Bar, on Main Street in Liverpool, are working to adjust.

"We had to adapt, but we're lucky because obviously Liverpool didn't have a lot of cases." As with other years, summer residents returned for the season, and other visitors from the Nova Scotia "bubble" also visited.

"We had people traveling from all over Nova Scotia here. People that haven't come to Liverpool for years were coming down because of the bubble, spending their money here. And so we had all of these people that discovered us. For us, that's great," said Shani.

She and her husband, Andreas, opened Main & Mersey in 2017, after they moved from London, UK. They began with the interior décor portion of the business and added a small coffee bar in 2019 with outdoor space.

"I've been a business owner for a long time. I had a manufacturing business in the U.K., so I'm very familiar with having to adapt a business formula on a regular basis," said Beadle.

The coffee shop consists of a small bar and a large communal table. not allowing for a lot of people under normal circumstances. And government health restrictions have meant that available seating has had to be reduced even further.

With the onset of winter, the owners closed off their outdoor space with corrugated plastic, so that patrons might use it on warmer days. And with the Christmas tree gone in the home décor part of the business, they were able to add another table.

Lloyoll Prefabs meanwhile is also managing to ride out the COVID storm, according to its president, Jonathan Lloy. The company, which builds premium modular homes in Liverpool, has been in operation since 2010.

Lloy admitted being concerned early on in the pandemic last year about what the summer and fall were going to look like.

"From a sales perspective, many customers were limited in their ability to travel to Nova Scotia, which was a deterrent to start some projects," said Lloy. But contrary to initial expectations, there was "a surprising surge in demand and we were fortunate that opportunity came our way."

The businessman indicated that the biggest adjustment through COVID-19 was working with the "market volatility, especially when it comes to commodities."

Prices for materials skyrocketed and the shortcomings of the supply chains they use were brought to the forefront.

"We had to start buying materials way ahead of schedule and materials were costing a lot more and some were just unavailable," he said. "This year we bought a fireplace from Italy and it was four months behind getting here. We regularly buy cabinet products from New York and that has been a challenge." While the company's usual Canadian suppliers were struggling to keep supplies in stock.

However, through it all, he said, the company has become leaner and better. It was able to purchase shaping equipment this year, allowing it to secure raw wood materials and mill it in-house, alleviating some of the reliance the business had on other companies.

"This also allows us to grow the business a little bit. We can now employ more people to run this equipment specifically, that don't necessarily have the training and experience to do some of the more technical things that we do," added Lloy. "It opens things up to who we can hire, which is important when you are from a small area like we are."

Meanwhile, the company has managed to retain its existing component of 14 staff members, and hopes to employ another six workers by the end of summer.

"We took some of our slower times and did some infrastructure work on the shop, did some organizing, made some improvements and now we're really set up for a strong year in 2021," said Lloy.

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