Three local entrepreneurs offered their advice to those who are looking to start or grow their business during the pandemic – keep going.
“Do it. Don’t wait for the perfect time,” said Caroline Pineau, owner and CEO of Stem, Haverhill’s first retail marijuana establishment.
Pineau made the remarks as part of a UMass Lowell Innovation Hub webinar titled “Building Back Up: Realities of (Re) Opening Downtown Haverhill.” The event was co-hosted by Havehill.biz and the Greater Haverhill Chamber.
Joining Pineau to share their experience as local business owners were Anthony Ruiz, owner of The Compound Gym, and Jason Petrou, general manager of his family’s restaurant Krueger Flatbread. The virtual event was moderated by Lauren Brenner, president of Human Resources for Amplified Insurance. A recording of the program can be found on YouTube.
For Pineau, launching her business in the middle of the pandemic – they had a small grand opening in May – meant added
“We had to move quickly and swiftly and implement a lot of changes in our plan,” Pineau said, adding that when they opened they could only offer curbside pickup and could not have customers in the store.
Krueger Flatbread was able benefit from takeout business early on coupled with a PPP Loan through the Small Business Administration. Though knowing takeout alone would not be sustainable, the restaurant received a grant from the City of Haverhill to support outdoor dining – something they had not had before. It has turned into a silver lining in a challenging time.
“I always thought it was a crazy idea,” Petrou said of outside dining. “But we didn’t have much of a choice … we put up a nice setup and it’s been awesome hearing the feedback from customers. The city made it very easy for us to get our permitting.”
With gyms not allowed to open until phase 3, Ruiz faced a long closure. During the closure, Ruiz and his team developed their own app, which would better prepare them for opening, scheduling and provide other benefits for gym members. To prepare for reopening they spaced out equipment, scheduled training blocks, and implemented new cleaning procedures.
“It’s our first year in business and we’re trying to learn things,” Ruiz said. “(The pandemic) pushed us to be more systems-based, so that challenge has turned into a positive impact for us.”
All of the business owners said making sure their employees and customers felt safe was top priority. Staff at all the businesses received training and protocols were developed for cleaning/sanitizing, employee health screenings, mask wearing, and how to respond if an employee has a positive COVID-19 test.
They also credited local resources for assistance including Haverhill Bank, Pentucket Bank, the City of Haverhill and the Greater Haverhill Chamber. While Stem was not eligible for federal relief, Pineau said that industry partners, the chamber and state legislators including Sen. Diana DiZoglio provided resources and advocacy for helping Stem with its opening.
All three also spoke of the value in supporting the community and businesses lifting each other up during this time.
“The support that business have offered each other has really boosted my spirit,” Pineau said. “Through the synergy of businesses working together, we can all thrive.”