Local Businesses Never Stopped Rallying

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As the business community makes its way back from the pandemic shutdowns, many companies are still fighting to get back to some semblance of normal.

The Business Journal’s Rally Around Small Business campaign surveyed business owners and managers on where their companies stood. Responses were mixed but there were common themes.

At Soft Touch Furniture in Girard, the new normal emphasizes customer and employee safety, as the coronavirus remains a concern.

“A number of our employees have already received a vaccination and we do what we can to assist employees with finding accessible vaccination locations,” said Jake Ellis, project and marketing manager. “We believe the vaccine will help bring us closer to how things were pre-pandemic. But we also plan on making sure to keep a clean, safe and healthy facility.”

Soft Touch makes it a point to support small businesses in the area. Suppliers of wood and foam were hit especially hard last year, Ellis noted. “We work with suppliers of both wood and foam in Ohio and appreciate the products they provide,” he said.

“We work with chain and locally owned restaurants, hotels, airports and more,” he continued. “We are committed to providing the best possible custom furniture products at the most reasonable prices and making sure they have what they need as the hospitality and travel industries get back to normal.”

Starting this year, Soft Touch is offering discounts on cushion foam replacements and wood furniture refinishing to residential customers, Ellis added. The idea is to allow residents to “keep some extra money in their wallets so they can pay for necessities or invest in their own businesses,” he said.

Concept Studio, Youngstown, supports local caterers and vendors when planning an event, although gatherings and parties are still limited because of occupancy restrictions, said Mary Ann Meyer, owner. The company is working to accommodate clients’ events that have small guest lists, such as micro-weddings and events with fewer than 50.

Concept offers special rates for downtown businesses and local small business vendors when hosting meetings, luncheons and vendor pop-up shops, Meyer said.

“We support and have worked with United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Lit Youngstown and Youngstown Streetscape,” she said.

Bolo Stick LLC, Warren, sources all of its manufacturing, finishing, packaging and shipping locally, said the company’s president, Bill Barna. The door barricade device “is and always has been an American-made product,” he said.

Business isn’t back to normal for the company, as it saw an “almost immediate stoppage of orders” as occupancy restrictions were placed on schools, churches and businesses. This reduced sales by nearly 52%, Barna said.

“The closing of businesses and government offices made it impossible to connect with administrators or buyers,” Barna said. “Likewise, the churches were also impacted in a similar manner with limited attendance and revenue stream.”

While it’s “too soon to declare what the ‘new normal’ is,” sales are starting to increase incrementally as staff returns to schools, businesses and churches, he said.

Carney Plastics of Youngstown also works to source its materials and supplies locally and from small businesses, said owner Sean Carney. 

Sales and basic operations at the plastics fabricator and distributor have been back to normal since November, although the way employees work and interact “is and probably will be altered for a while,” he said.

Workers maintain six feet of distance when possible and wear masks when they can’t, or when they need to communicate directly with each other. Twice daily, the company pauses work to sanitize commonly shared machines, carts and tools.

“We don’t require customers to sign for pick-ups and have far less direct interaction when they pick up orders,” Carney said. “Their products are ready in a designated area to pick up or we carry them out to them.”