Businesses launch during pandemic

Joe Coyazo, Jimmy John’s store growth manager, helped local restaurant owner Ted Petersen and his staff run a smooth opening day.

Opening a new business is an exciting and stressful endeavor, but opening a new business during a pandemic can add an extra layer of unprecedented stress.

May 19 was opening day for Jimmy John’s in Lenoir City. Ted Petersen, local owner, said there were no initial obstacles and opening went “very smoothly” for the 10-man construction crew. They stuck to the scheduled construction plan and got the building done right in time.

“It’s not until this last past week when I have to take off half of my dining room. That’s really the first time I encountered any COVID problems,” Petersen said.

Petersen isn’t letting worries about revenue get to him right now, “maybe in a couple weeks, but not right now,” he said. The projected numbers that Jimmy John’s corporate office has been relaying to him have been enough to squash the worries. Based on what they’re telling him, he doesn’t “have much of a concern right now, and they are staying on top of it.”

The biggest stressor for Petersen was finding employees.

“I don’t think I’m up to staff just yet,” he said. “It was stressful because now unemployment benefits — they can stay on unemployment and make more than what I’m going to offer them. So why would they want a job here? We’ve had several of those experiences.”

The extra safety protocols put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention add pressure to the small staff.

Despite these concerns, and based on corporate projections, Petersen remains hopeful for a successful opening.

Cory Gephart, co-owner of Vinyl Magic, also has some staffing worries, but is trying to keep a positive mindset.

Before April 15, Vinyl Magic offered car appearance restoration services out of the back of a Ford E-150 van. Now, it has moved into a 2,500-square-foot space. One of the “growing pains” is the worry of being able to provide the same quality and speed of service customers expect with the same amount of staff if the business “takes off” in the bigger space, Gephart said.

Gephart hopes to use COVID-19 as an “opportunity to look and see what’s going to happen going forward.” That includes the possibility there will be less air travel and more car travel, which could increase sales.

“We’ve been able to kind of get in and hone our craft, because that’s all we’ve been concentrating on is this rather than kind of the negatives of what’s going to happen after this,” Gephart said. “You know, it’s a family business. So it’s kind of sparked a relationship with my dad, and that’s been awesome, too. It really hasn’t been a drawback as much as we haven’t really been able to get out into the public and say, ‘Hey, we’re here’.”

Arthritis Consultants, a newly opened physician’s office in Lenoir City, narrowly dodged a problem its opening day. Sarah Brown, office manager, said the office opened March 3 “just a week or so before everyone realized this was really going to affect us.”

The business closed the week of March 23 to “sanitize everything and get (their) bearings,” Brown said. Representatives also added new protocols that include using one patient room per day so the room can be sanitized and sit overnight.

“We’re very lucky that this did not hit us earlier because we wouldn’t have been able to open probably,” she said. “… Thank goodness for opening when we did, because we almost changed our open to April, and I don’t know what we would have done. It would have been really bad.”