Local businesses impacted by pandemic

Feb. 25 will mark a year since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that COVID-19 was headed toward pandemic proportions. Since then, everyday life has completely strayed from the norm and changed across the world.

The effects of COVID-19 on the slipping economy can be seen in how businesses are responding. Particularly, the hardest hits on small businesses as they have had to adapt quickly with ever changing guidelines.

“As a small family-owned business we were forced to shutter overnight and adapt to new operational norms on the fly,” Charlie Ann Dwyer, sales and marketing director for Syl’s Chophouse, said.

Syl’s restaurant in Rockdale has been in operation since 1946. What started out as a small family-owned business has grown into a full-service steakhouse, voted the “Best Fine Dining” in Will County Herald New Readers Choice Awards. Their operation has become a big part of the surrounding community.

Like all other businesses in 2020, they were forced to alter current operations to survive a new normal, where going out to eat simply wasn’t an option.

“Our team displayed countless examples of grit and innovation. When the going got tough, we worked harder and pivoted to adapt to new modern means,” Dwyer said.

This included switching to “sidewalk curbside offerings, economical family meal packages, parking lot tented spaces to welcome guests to outdoor experiences,” all being tactics that have been picked up by more and more businesses as the pandemic rages on.

Ten Drops Cafe, in Plainfield, even implemented a subscription service and door delivery for bags of coffee. It has opened new doors to keep business flowing.

“It’s pretty much sustained us,” Christopher Ptacek, co-owner of Ten Drops Cafe, said.

Deciding what business approaches to take has not been easy on any business, with many choosing to close their doors for good.

“We never once considered opening the doors to the public. I know some businesses have had to choose between doing the right thing and going under. I know some businesses also never once considered doing the right thing,” Ptacek said.

Some businesses, such as Bronkberry Farms in Plainfield, have found more success during the pandemic as an “essential” business.

“We sell fresh vegetables and vegetable plants, canned items and garden supplies,” Jennifer Bronk, current owner alongside her husband, said. “We’ve implemented more inventory on our vegetable plants, vegetables and all of our garden Center items.”

They are entering their 10th season under current ownership this April, having been open since 2012. Being an “Open Air facility” has allowed for a safer environment in purchasing fresh ingredients.

Bronkberry Farms is known for being family oriented with a wide range of experiences including: shopping, visiting the farm animals, taking pictures, or just enjoying the time outside on the farm.

All these can still be done following CDC guidelines, such as social distancing and wearing masks.

“You can even bring your lunch and have it in our Open Air Pavilion,” Bronk said.

For those looking to give back to the community during these unprecedented times, local businesses are a great place to start.

Support is always welcome, but even more so when the typical income has dropped. The smallest act, like ordering a bag of coffee from Ten Drops to make at home or purchasing fresh produce from Bronkberry Farms, can have a huge impact.

“The community has helped in supporting our Farm, spreading the word to others about our Family Farm and buying local instead of Big Box Stores,” Bronk said. “My husband Kevin and myself at Bronkberry Farms are very grateful for all of the support we’ve received since we’ve Opened our Garden Center.”

The smallest of actions have touched the hearts of those who have sunk so much into their businesses.

“It was heartbreaking to watch as so many local family owned businesses closed their doors for good,” Dwyer said. “Our long time clientele supported us with carryout orders, gift card purchases and outdoor tented dining. Which we are incredibly grateful for and will never forget.”

The steps taken by the government to slow the curve have all been in hopes to bring back what was considered normal before 2020.

“We believe it has been a true necessity to close retail businesses at various points over the last year. We know how hard that is for some people to recognize, but the crises really begin when hospitals are overrun, and that has absolutely happened in so many locations throughout the country over the last year,” Ptacek said.