A Tale of Four Businesses

Three days after New Orleans and Louisiana began Phase 1 reopening, four local entrepreneurs shared their reopening plans, concerns and views of the future.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.


 

Safety is an entrepreneurs’ NO. 1 Concern, now that the business world is a different placeThese were the unsurprising conclusions of four New Orleans business owners in the immediate aftermath of Phase 1 reopening. Surprising and gratifying, though, was their confidence in the survival of their enterprises.

“We want to make sure that our staff and our customers are as safe as possible,” said Pamela Bryan, owner of Octavia Art Gallery, which includes one location on Magazine Street and one in Houston. Spanning 3,000 square feet, the New Orleans gallery allows plenty of space for social distancing, and staff wear masks at all times.

Safety is also the top concern for Trina Davis, owner of Mosaic Salon and Gallery, located in Mid-City on Carrollton Avenue, but Davis faces different challenges. Her shop has two small rooms, allowing for one stylist in each room, but she now has to schedule in time between their appointments to clean thoroughly and keep customers safely separated.

“I’m taking fewer clients each day,” she noted, “so I have to work more days. It’s already more stressful being at work, and I’m going to miss my usual time off.”

These two businesses immediately opened as fully as restrictions would allow, but Happy Raptor Distillery is taking a bit more time. The distillery has survived by offering to-go sales of its infused rums and cocktails, and by pivoting to produce hand sanitizer. As of late May, the owners had no immediate plans to reopen the tasting room.

“We’re not quite sure how to manage the crowds,” said co-founder Meagen Moreland. “We would also need to hire staff, and there is a lot of uncertainty among service industry employees.”

Moreland added that many restaurants and bars are not guaranteed to reopen, and that to a significant degree, “service industry employees are taking the hit so that companies can survive. We want to be mindful of that.”

Note to business customers: If you are selfish enough to go into an establishment without a mask, you are putting business owners in a very difficult situation.

“We are going to face that moment when a client walks in without a mask and refuses to wear one,” predicted attorney Scott Galante of the Galante & Bivalacqua Law Firm. “We will not meet with that client. We have a responsibility to keep our staff and the people in our lives safe.”

The firm has been working mostly via Zoom, and even though the office reopened a week into Phase 1, Galante anticipates that most client consultations will remain virtual.

Davis said her salon will sell masks to customers who show up without one (she found a supply in Baton Rouge and drove up there to collect them). Moreland has similar plans, though she hopes her customers will respect her staff enough to wear their own masks.

“It’s hard to refuse business,” she said, “but we will have to do it.”

All four entrepreneurs were remarkably bullish about the future of their companies. Bryan and Davis both noted that they have established, loyal clientele; Octavia also does considerable business online. Galante observed that the legal profession benefits from constant demand and felt that smaller firms like his were well-positioned to adjust to new realities. As far as concern for product demand, Moreland simply pointed out, “We make booze.”

All also expressed guarded optimism about the economy overall.

“It may take two years, but the economy will recover, slowly,” Moreland believes. “Emotionally, it will take longer to come back.”

Davis and Bryan both expressed concern about a second wave of infections. Galante noted conflicting guidance from the different levels of government, and all four were worried about citizens not complying with necessary safety measures. However, all four entrepreneurs also believe there will eventually be a viable new “normal.”

New Orleans has more challenges than many cities, but it also has a valuable intangible, eloquently expressed by Bryan: “We understand how resilient we are,” he said. “We know who we are, and we know what to do.”