BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Exactly one year ago, businesses like gyms, bars and restaurants, and movie theaters all over Western New York were told they had to close due to growing concerns over COVID-19 and the rapid spread of the virus in the days after the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic.
Fast-forward one year, and now, those same businesses are slowly being allowed to reopen as the COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available and the positivity rates around the region and the state decline.
Still, in the last year, small businesses have borne the brunt of the economic blow from the virus.
According to New York State Department of Labor data, the private sector in Western New York was hit hard; a total of about 50,100 people lost their jobs in industries like leisure, hospitality, education, health, trade, transportation, and utilities. At the state level, more than 1,000,000 New Yorkers lost their jobs because of the pandemic, ultimately leaving the state with an average 9.5% unemployment rate for 2020.
During an interview on 7 Eyewitness News at 6AM on Friday, Interim Executive Director for the University at Buffalo School of Management's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Anthony DeSimone says recovery for small businesses depends largely on how willing they've been to adapt to the changes over the last year.
"It's about survival," DeSimone said. "The COVID-19 rule is that all of the other rules may no longer apply. So you have to be flexible, you have to be ready to change your business model."
He says some of the industries that were able to do that best over the past year have been those that were deemed essential at the onset of the pandemic.
"There are many businesses, online-type stores and things like that, where it was [already] very pandemic-friendly and have done even better," he said.
He went on to say that many of the businesses that were deemed essential are looking to grow now with help from the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and added, "The other ones, the 'non-essentials,' they're the ones that are now just trying to survive."
DeSimone says he's seeing a lot of growth in businesses like online stores, delivery services and even liquor stores.
"They are thriving, they are growing, and they are continuing to scale," he said, and added that many of the businesses that were suffering the most early on, like restaurants, are now reopening, and the ones that have changed their business models are "growing now again."
DeSimone encourages any small business owner in need of help growing their business to seek help through UB's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.