Downtown Fort Mill. Photo from Charlotte Stories.

Since being announced as a global pandemic back in March, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken many businesses throughout the United States, particularly small local businesses in many towns and cities.

With various state and local governments creating different guidelines from one another and putting an emphasis on people to stay at home as much as possible, the impact has had a dramatic effect on the performance of local businesses.

Many have had to close permanently throughout the country, cut ties with part-time and full-time workers, limit the number of customers inside the store, change hours of operation, and many more drastic measures. A lot of these small stores have also had to deal with major competition such as Amazon and eBay given the fact that these companies earn their profit through delivery service.

Back here in Fort Mill, the side-effect of the pandemic can be felt on local businesses in town.

PuckerButt Pepper Company in downtown Fort Mill. Photo from Mitchell Mercer.

PuckerButt Pepper Company, known for making some of the world’s hottest peppers, has put a focus on online ordering, with their sauces and peppers being used by people for food ingredients.

“COVID-19 has actually benefited our business and boosted our online sales dramatically. We have been able to stay open, while practicing safety measures. Our foot traffic in store has decreased, but our online sales have continued to increase. COVID-19 has not been hard on me as a small business owner, since this year by the grace of God, we have expanded our business” owner Ed Currie said.

For the customers that do enter Currie’s business, a number of measures have been put in place for the time being to ensure everyone is safe while shopping. A curbside pickup option to go along with online ordering was established as well.

“We try to limit the number of customers in our store-front, we have a temperature scanner for customers and employees who scan their temperature upon entering the premises. We encourage customers to wear masks, and we practice maintaining social distancing. We have hand sanitizer in store for customers to use, we have a temperature scanner, and we practice safe social distancing. In the beginning of the pandemic, we offered curbside pick up. We have an online store as well” he says.

Numerous pepper sauces and awards on display at PuckerButt Pepper Company. Photo from Mitchell Mercer.

While Currie wants people to support his business, he also reaches out to other small business owners throughout the country by supplying their prospective products.

“It is very important for people to support local shops and businesses in their hometowns. We try to support locally in many of our ventures and try to support small business owners across the country by offering their hot sauces in our store and online” he says.

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Simply Jane Formals, located behind Tom Hall Plaza and 911 Driving School off Tom Hall Street/South Carolina Highway 160. Photo from Mitchell Mercer.

Another local business, Simply Jane Formals, has also benefited from online shopping for at-home proms and dates despite the fact that many proms in the area were cancelled back in the spring.

“Luckily, I think especially here in this Fort Mill area, a lot of parents are really resilient to give their kids a good experience, so we were able to see a lot of business from the at-home proms and people that wanted to still get dressed up and take pictures with their date. So we were able to do a lot of online shopping as well, which has been good for people” says Ashleigh Vanderwalker, business manager of the store.

Since its inception in 2017, Simply Jane Formals focuses on wedding, prom, and pageant clothing. According to Vanderwalker, one of the reasons that online shopping for her business has been a success is due to spreading more information about her boutique throughout the southeastern United States and doing appointment only hours.

Dresses inside Simply Jane Formals. Photo from Mitchell Mercer.

“We have done a lot more for out of town customers. We are doing a lot of online sales that we’re shipping out to Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and kind of all-over. The biggest thing that has helped us is being able to move to appointment-only. By getting to set our own hours as a small business and not being mandated by a larger cooperation, we’re able to work directly with each customer that wants to shop and find out a time they can come in and work one-on-one so that we can keep the store open for just them and also keep everything distanced and cleaned after every customer possible” she says.

But the most important thing for Vanderwalker on why people should shop locally is due to the uniqueness of products smaller boutiques carry compared to larger company stores.

“The thing that’s important with shopping locally at a boutique like this, we guarantee that you are the only person in a very far radius that is going to be wearing your dress. With the social media age that we’re in, you don’t want to be posting the same thing as somebody else, which is something we can guarantee you’re not going to do. A lot of these desires that we carry, most of them, you can only find them in smaller boutiques and retailers. They are not carried in department stores. As long as you’re supporting these local businesses and you’re supporting us, who can bring you these one of a kind gowns, it’s going to keep the option open for you.”

Mitchell Mercer has lived in Fort Mill since 2003 and graduated from Nation Ford High School in 2019. He currently attends Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC and is majoring in English-Communications....