In the wild ride that is owning a small business, never did I imagine that adapting to a pandemic would be part of our operations. I’ve endured through many other problems and concerns from equipment delays to dishwashers flooding to staff shortages to spilled barrels of beers. Yet navigating the tumultuous landscape of a public health crisis, only worsened by dangerous misinformation, distrust of science, and a lack of steadfast leadership, was not something that had ever entered my mind as I fretted over profit and loss statements.
There are times, usually appearing at 3 a.m., that running your own business feels lonely and scary even if you have a staff like mine at Kalispell Brewing that is unbelievably talented, dedicated and creative. The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t helped chase away middle-of-the-night fears but one thing is certain: while our community leaders, such as the Flathead County commissioners, evade the decisions required to slow the pandemic’s spread and continue to foster the public’s mistrust in our health department, it is our town’s small businesses that are stepping up, quickly adapting their services and goods to meet this extraordinary challenge.
Mountain Valley Foods comes to top of mind as a small grocer that did a quick pivot to ensure the safety of their employees and customers by instituting health and safety protocols such as requiring masks, providing hand sanitizer, limiting capacity, and offering online ordering and curbside pickup. I know firsthand that none of these changes that shops like locally owned Mountain Valley Foods occur without a lot of expense and energy. Physical store layouts needing to be retooled, creating of websites to host online purchases, and shifting service options do not come without many late nights and investment of capital and time. For small businesses, these changes had to come quick and fast, and are likely not something predicted when one thinks about the year ahead.
What I’ve found is that our small businesses are operated by people who truly care about the community and take this responsibility seriously, especially during these difficult times. Places such as bakeries, restaurants and breweries like mine used to be social gathering spots and now have altered how those interactions can still take place, just in a more distanced and safer manner. It’s not required, and as we’ve witnessed in this county, not enforced. The onerous falls upon our business leaders and employees, who want to keep themselves, their families, and their patrons safe. Businesses such as Mountain Valley Foods lead through this pandemic with grace and resiliency. And I’ve often witnessed with great heart, a smile beneath the masks.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.
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