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I-TEAM: Surviving the pandemic remains a struggle for local small businesses

Published: Mar. 1, 2021 at 6:23 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s been nearly a year since we first heard the phrases “stay at home orders” and “social distancing” to “flatten the curve.”

Much has changed over a year, including the future of many small businesses in our area.

Some people dream of success, while others get up every morning and make it happen.

“I love helping people,” said Jayme Durand.

Her dream became reality when she opened her gym — Epic Ultimate Results in Augusta.

It’s been 12 years of really getting to live out a dream.

“I started in my dad’s basement,” she said.

But the dream has gone from humble beginnings to an 11,500-square-foot facility nestled near Doctors Hospital.

Clients saw results and business grew.

There are a lot of emotions for Durand.

Durand was just beginning to see results on the financial end of the business, too.

“My biggest benchmarkI wanted to hit 250 members, and we were on track to do that by April 1, and then — boom,” Durand said.

Then came the shutdown for nonessential businesses.

The mayor’s executive order forced Durand and other owners of non-essential small businesses to close their doors for nearly two months.

“I literally looked at everything I could cut,” Durand said.

She laid off her team.

She started virtual classes.

She cut overhead by 40 percent.

She even got help from the Small Business Administration.

“Any avenue ... I had to go after it and try it,” Durand said.

A loan and grant were only Band-Aids for her business.

“I call it life support with how it was able to let us continue. Kept hoping things would pick up, the numbers would pick up,” she said.

The only numbers to pick up were the COVID cases in the second wave of the virus by summer.

“Space wasn’t an issue. We got 10-by-10 squares. We got a fogger. But I think it was such an unknown. People didn’t know,” she said.

“Find your dream, find your passion. That’s been the hardest pill to swallow because I had been living it.”

This past Saturday, she packed up the last box.

“It’s been like a death, honestly,” she said.

Nationally, the fitness industry lost $13.9 billion during the first six months of the pandemic. Several big gym chains even declared bankruptcy, including corporate owned corporate-owned Gold’s Gyms. The financial forecast isn’t any sunnier for 2021.

Georgians are some of the least likely to return to their gyms in the nation, with more than 70 percent coming in at a hard no, according to a survey by RunRepeat.

“Businesswise, it just doesn’t make sense,” Durand said.

How much did she lose during the pandemic?

“From ’19 to ’20 — $180,000,” she said.

She lasted longer than many others.

Data from Yelp shows in the first six months of the pandemic, more than 97,000 small businesses permanently closed.

Among those here locally were The Hive, Bees Knees, Playhouse, Artsy Me and Men’s Refinery Barber Spa.

The most impacted industries, according to Yelp, were restaurants, shopping, spas, bars and fitness.

“Brick-and-mortar is hard,” Durand said. “Your overhead is a make-or-break.”

“It’s whoever has the most fight to stay on top of it,” she said.

The pandemic broke her business, but not her desire to help others,” she said.

“Same with my dad,” she said.

Dean Durand is the owner of Custom Machine & Welding in North Augusta. His small business survived many hardships over the past 36 years.

“I am helping my dad on the side from where he has had cutbacks,” she said.

Her dad’s shop is an essential business. It stayed open, unlike her gym. Sales remained consistent, but he did not earn a profit in 2020.

He helped her launch her dream 12 years ago.

Now she is helping to keep his dream alive today.

How to get help

This January, the Augusta Commission approved expanding the small business relief program to include more small business owners. Owners of businesses with more fewer than 20 employees are eligible for up to $7,500, and those with less than 100 employees are eligible to receive up to $15,000. the program remains open and available for application at www.augustasmallbusinessrelief.com until all funds have been allocated to eligible businesses.

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