small businesses

These Massachusetts Businesses Pivoted to Survive the Pandemic

A year after COVID-19 started spreading across the U.S., many businesses are doing different work than they had before the pandemic

NBC Universal, Inc.

Businesses across the country have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. But a year after it struck, many have adapted to survive in a changing world.

At Batten Bros. Signs and Awnings, making signs -- often the big ones you see outside businesses -- is a family affair.

Starting in 1946, business was going great. Then, last March, COVID-19 cases started to spike in the Boston area.

"Orders definitely declined as COVID hit," owner Richard Batten said. "We didn't lay anyone off, but we were definitely not busy."

For Batten, layoffs were a last resort. Many employees have been with Batten for a decade or longer.

"We built a new fence, did projects to make sure everyone got 40 hours, but it is hard. You are looking for work," he said. "There is the stress of knowing that, it is not all that busy, and also wondering, you know, 'Where is the bottom?'"

Batten's wife pushed the company to take some of the supplies it had on hand to make signs and pivot to make shields that were just starting to become needed as businesses looked to reopen amid the pandemic.

Soon, election officials ahead of the presidential election and schools looking to reopen became big customers.

"It really became a significant part of our business," Batten said.

One year ago, Heather White was running Thrillfit in Boston's Mission Hill neighborhood. Business was on the move.

"We were on 50 straight days of sold out classes," White said.

But then, COIVD hit, and White shut down her studio, but not her business. Instead, she immediately pivoted online, offering her classes up to those stuck at home.

"Yes, we lost 40% of our revenue with our studio being closed, but we became a global sensation overnight," White said.

Soon, clients were signing up in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Singapore.

The pivot helped White keep her 30 employees working.

"We had no idea what was going to happen," White said. "Thank God, literally, thank God we are still in business. People love the product."

In Cambridge, one year ago, Tracy Chang was on top of her game. Her restaurant, Pagu, was thriving.

"I just had been nominated for a James Beard, like best chef northeast, and all of a sudden, it was the busiest Saturday we have had," Chang said.

When COVID hit, Chang was forced to close her dining room. But she never stopped cooking.

Chang launched "Off Their Plate" a non-profit to feed frontline health care workers. Months later, she also started "Project Restore Us" to feed essential working families.

"We have reinvented ourselves many times over. We started a grocery market, we started doing suburban deliveries, a lot of things to make the business still function as a business," Chang said.

Many businesses faced adversity during an unprecedented year, and many are finding ways to persevere.

"You have to keep moving, you have to keep pushing forward, and some days are going to be horrible, but if you can push through that, the next one might be better," White said.

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