A sampling of businesses along Main Street in downtown Pilot Mountain show that while most shop owners are glad to again be seeing a return of customers, the effects of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders in the ongoing battle with COVID-19 have been severe and will continue to be felt.
According to Mount Pilot Country Store owner Donna Chilton, her business had been closed for more than a month before its reopening on May 9. The day marked the governor’s phase one easing of some mandated business restrictions as part of a three phase reopening plan.
Chilton said the reopening was a good day for the business and voiced appreciation for the support of her customers.
“There were a lot of people out, and they were glad to see us open. And we were glad to see them. After being closed, we needed it,” she said.
Chilton said the increase in traffic continued last week but was not nearly as dramatic with “some days better than others.”
Chilton noted that recovery for the small business will be more difficult after spring festivals, including Mayfest, the season’s first cruise-in and the Pilot View Vintage Market were cancelled.
“Probably the worst thing for us is that we lost our spring events,” Chilton said. “They are usually what gets us out of winter and helps us to get back up and going again. We depend on them. Losing them was tough. Now, we need people to come out and support our small local shops. We’re going to need that to survive.”
As a food service business, Main Street Coffee was able to remain open but was limited to curbside and take-out orders. Owner Kim Quinn noted that while the lobby could have remained open for placing take-out orders, she chose to close it as a safety precaution. Customers placed orders in advance or at a table placed across the front door and received their orders at the same table.
Quinn noted that, in talking to those who are venturing out, comfort levels and reactions to reopening are varied.
“We’ve seen more people downtown both shopping and in cars since phase one began, but there are still a lot of mixed feelings about coming out,” she said. “Some people aren’t going out much at all except maybe to the grocery store or for a quick stop by here. Others are ready to get out and want to see downtown rolling again.”
Blue Mountain Herbs and Supplements was also able to remain open but opted to shorten its regular hours. According to owner Susie Cooper, during a six-week period the business has relied on curbside, delivery and mail order to serve its customers.
She noted that one aspect of service during the period has impressed those who weren’t previously as familiar with Pilot Mountain’s small town culture. As customers ordered and paid over the phone, she has prepared orders and set them out on an unattended table in front of her shop. Customers would drop by at their convenience to pick up their orders, often finding a free sample included in the bag.
“Only in Pilot Mountain,” Cooper said with a smile. “I trust my neighbors and the citizens of this town. They’re good folks.”
Since the phase one implementation, Cooper said, she has observed a significant increase in downtown foot traffic.
“That’s encouraging,” she said.
One of the more unusual and difficult situations for a downtown business has been faced by Will Hurley, new owner of Mount Pilot Antiques. Hurley had purchased the business from long-time owner Cook’e Jessup and took over operations on March 27.
“I’d made a commitment to purchase, and the transition between Cook’e and myself was great. I wanted to keep my word,” he said.
“The timing was just off and, with COVID-19, it was hard. We had to wait and we were finally able to open on May 9 for phase one. It’s been tough.”
When he was finally able to open its doors, Hurley noted, the business benefited from the increase in downtown activity and continues to do well.
“That first Saturday was really good,” he noted. “And the next week was busy. A lot of people are ready to get back out. They’ve been in the house for too long. I know that people will eventually be coming back out and, with the return of some of the downtown events, I’m encouraged.”
“I really like the people here,” Hurley said. “I want to continue to carry on the success this business has had over the years.”