The Covid-19 pandemic came as a shock to many last March. As everyone adapted to the new normal, small businesses and their owners were some of the hardest hit by the economic fall-out of the pandemic. But with vaccinations ramping up and Kentucky expanding seating capacity for restaurants, small businesses are adjusting yet again – but this time to having customers in-person again.
Common Grounds is one of the most popular coffee shops in Lexington, with multiple locations around town. Because the locations have the ability to distance customers, Common Grounds has maintained its inviting ambiance and status as a gathering place.
“Honestly, not much has changed here. We’ve just been kind of doing the same thing we were doing,” said Colton Hooke, a store manager at Common Ground’s downtown location.
The downtown location shut down twice because of the pandemic – once when all non-essential businesses were forced to close last spring and a second time when dining restrictions were tightened in December.
With restaurant restrictions loosened, Common Grounds has continued normal operations undeterred by the pandemic. But the downtown location is prepping for another change - Hooke said the shop will change locations from the current East High Street address. He said the hope is to remain downtown, but they do not have a definite location lined up yet.
When COVID-19 began, restaurants without drive-thru options were forced to close until they could serve food without dine-in. DV8 Kitchen, a sister restaurant to Saul Good, is currently allowing for customers to dine in.
The Lexington restaurant is well-known for employing people who are recovering from substance abuse, giving those individuals a stable job and income during a time when employment can be tough to secure.
Complete with tables, smiling workers and a modern inviting feel, DV8 is a place for both great food and second chances. The restaurant has had to close several times in the past year—once on March 26 due to COVID-19 restrictions and several additional times due to a lack of business. Those latter closures were for short periods, mostly a weekend at a time.
While the pandemic did have a significant impact on DV8, a manager said the restaurant is almost back to pre-pandemic business levels. Mask policies are enforced for anyone not eating or drinking.
“We had to create a new way of, you know, making food and getting food out,” said Pablo, a production manager who declined to give his last name.
Like other restaurants, DV8 has been buoyed by the looser rules that have arisen as more and more Kentuckians are vaccinated. DV8 is not forcing employees to get the vaccine, but rather leaving the decision up to each worker individually since it is not mandatory in the state of Kentucky.
Some restaurants have been able to operate with resuming dine-in options.
A Cup of Commonwealth is seeing a steady flow of customers at their downtown location without inside service. Instead, customers can be seated at outdoor tables with their orders.
The coffee shop has not had to close its downtown location because of COVID-19, said Alexandra Canada.
Canada, director of community engagement and customer experience for Commonwealth, said they mixed curbside, delivery and carry-out service to get through the early days of the pandemic.
Unlike other local restaurants, Canada said Commonwealth did not see a dip in business when UK students went home last spring, taking their spending money with them. This is because the coffee shop mostly caters to business professionals on their way to work or foot traffic from nearby neighborhoods.
The number of customers coming in and out of the downtown location testifies that the community stands by this local business.
If the current decline of COVID-19 in Kentucky continues, Commonwealth may consider reopening their dine-in area. But Canada said they are waiting for staff to have the opportunity to be vaccinated if they choose to do so.
“We ultimately want to err on the side of caution,” said Canada. She emphasized that they prioritize their workers feeling safe above all else.
These three businesses are a small sample of Lexington’s local economy but show encouraging signs of recovery as spring rolls into hope. Other businesses were not so lucky – more than 30 Lexington restaurants, including music venue Cosmic Charlie’s and a Blaze Pizza franchise, shuttered their doors for good because of the pandemic. Two Saul Good locations and Two Keys, a tavern beloved by UK students, were also lost to 2020. But with the support of locals, small businesses are on the rise once again.