Startup businesses in Vermont that were in the works before the pandemic — which are now opening during a challenging atmosphere for sales — are looking for community support to help get them off the ground.
"We're confident we'll survive," said Chris Kesler, who is part of the team behind Black Flannel.
The multimillion dollar project converted vacant retail space in the Essex Experience into a brand-new combination brewery, distillery, upscale pub and beer education center.
"It's all about celebrating exceptional craft," Kesler said of the mission of the new business.
Kesler said he believes local folks who've been cooped up because of COVID-19 and hungry for a new experience close to home will get Black Flannel through its early months during the pandemic — until food and drink tourism picks up again.
Also in the Essex Experience, Uncommon Coffee said it is opening in the next few weeks.
Owner Maya Crowley said, thinking long-term, she is confident the area will benefit from a community space like the one Uncommon Coffee is providing.
"I had a lot of anxiety at the beginning about whether or not we were doing the right thing," Crowley told NECN and NBC10 Boston. "But honestly, the support we've gotten from our community in Burlington, as well as our community in Essex, has been so overwhelming. So that's been really reaffirming as we go through this process."
In Winooski, Four Quarters Brewing is targeting Labor Day weekend for the opening of a new tap room in a former bank building.
Owner Brian Eckert said the move will allow Four Quarters to expand from its current cramped space into one that will become a destination and provide a more relaxing and enjoyable atmosphere.
"COVID's going to affect how we operate here, compared to how we wanted to, but it's still the better move for us," Eckert said, explaining that there will be indoor and outdoor aspects to the new facility.
Some indications of challenges facing these operations and others came from a new survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.
The survey found widespread expectations for a slow recovery. Slightly more than half of small businesses included in the group's research predicted a return to normal economic conditions in 2021. Just over a fifth responded with their belief it'll take even longer — sometime between 2022 and 2024.
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The NFIB survey heard from 40% of businesses that said getting customers to return has either been "very difficult" or "moderately difficult."
The indie Vermont businesses NECN and NBC10 Boston spoke to, which are just starting out in such a strange climate, said they are looking to supportive neighbors and social media marketing to help them establish themselves on firm ground.
"Everybody here is very optimistic," Kesler said.