Strength in Small Businesses: Downtown Fargo Deals with Impact of COVID-19 Closures

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BY KATE ALMQUIST kate.almquist@go.mnstate.edu

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every community in some way, but small businesses in downtown Fargo have been taking an especially hard hit since having to temporarily close their doors to the public.

When the government-mandated order to stay at home was put in place, the steady stream of customers that local businesses rely on slowed significantly, causing financial and social hardships on popular businesses like the Fargo Theatre, Others Fair Trade Boutique and Nichole’s Fine Pastry and Café.

As an entertainment venue, the Fargo Theatre’s main purpose is to be a place where people can gather to experience a show or film together. March, April and May are typically the busiest months of the year for the non-profit organization, but all events during this time had to be cancelled to respect social distancing rules, including their largest annual fundraiser, the Fargo Film Festival.

“It is a difficult and stressful time for our team, but I am so proud of how we have all come together to make the best of this tough situation,” Emily Beck, executive director at the Fargo Theatre, said.

To cope with the lost income, the Fargo Theatre has been writing grants, applying for loans and fundraising with curbside popcorn sales. The organization has also asked the community to help by making a donation or becoming a member on their website, fargotheatre.org.

“The Fargo Theatre has this lovely little community of film and music lovers, and it’s been so hard to be apart from everyone and to disappoint people with cancellations,” said Beck. “But we’re very grateful to live in a city that values the arts and for the outpouring of support we’ve received.”

Effects of COVID-19 have also been impacting Others Fair Trade Boutique, a local shop that specializes in clothing and home goods and thrives on face-to-face communication with their customers. Since having to close the shop, Others has lost 80% of their revenue, and the staff have fully shifted their focus to online sales and marketing.

Sarah Peltier, the brand director at Others, said besides the economic challenges, the hardest part of this change has been cutting hours and having to take employees off the schedule. 

“Knowing your business provides the income for a student to be able to afford living expenses in Fargo and then having to drastically scale back their hours to keep your business running is a huge burden to bear,” Peltier said.

Others is encouraging customers to continue shopping online by offering local delivery to the Fargo-Moorhead community and free shipping on all items. The shop is also staying active on social media and asking the community to keep liking and sharing their content to help spread awareness of their brand.

“One good thing that has come from this is having time to step back and focus on the little things with more intention,” Peltier said. “It’s been kind of nice to evaluate what is working for us, what we really love, and who we want to be as a store when we come out of this crisis.”

On any typical day, there is rarely an open seat at Nichole’s Fine Pastry, a Parisian-style café that has become a favorite in the Fargo-Moorhead community for its unique atmosphere and warm hospitality. When the usually abundant walk-in crowd began to slow, Nichole Hensen, head chef and founder, knew it was no longer profitable to remain fully open. 

“The hardest part has been not knowing if I’m making the right decisions for the shop and my staff in the choices I make,” Hensen said. “My choices could affect my staff in ways I might not even realize.”

Hensen made the difficult decision to let go of nearly all her employees, except for a few essential members to help with online and takeout orders. “When you own a business, there are always financial stresses and concerns,” Hensen said. “This just adds another level of stress, but we’re working through it.”

Although the café itself is temporarily closed, customers can still order cakes, pies, cheesecakes, trays, gift cards and many other dessert items from Nichole’s on their website, nicholesfinepastry.com. All online orders are available for pickup or delivery. 

“I’m very grateful to the community for being patient and understanding during this time,” Hensen said. “Some customers will leave simple, kind notes within online orders to show support to me and the business, and that’s always nice to see.”

Since its establishment in 1969, the mission of the Downtown Fargo Community Partnership has been to “bring together and support the businesses, promoters, advocates, and visionaries of historic Downtown Fargo and its future by connecting and partnering within the community and beyond.” Melissa Brandt, president of the Downtown Fargo Community Partnership, is proud to see this mission in play as the city works its way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Teamwork between the businesses and the members of this community is essential to get through this crisis,” Brandt said. “It’s been heartwarming to watch the public go out of their way to support the local businesses they love.”

The Downtown Community Partnership’s website, downtownfargo.com, has a page dedicated to financial, technical and social resources for small businesses in need of extra support during this time. The website also provides several ways the community can help local businesses such as buying gift cards, ordering takeout, donating to local charities, shopping locally online, taking an online fitness class and interacting with local businesses on their social media platforms.

“The Downtown Fargo community is strong, inspiring, and resilient,” Brandt said. “We want to thank everyone who has ordered takeout from a small business, who has picked up a book or small good from a local shop, and to those who have made these last few weeks tolerable through their continued support. Keep it up and we’ll get through this time by navigating it together.”

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