Small businesses in Georgetown are innovating amid the COVID-19 challenges and preparing for the upcoming holiday season

Despite shutdowns due to the pandemic and statewide supply chain, inflation and labor shortages that followed, the City of Georgetown saw its sales tax allocations increase by 20% in fiscal year 2021-22.

From March 2020 through October 2022, Community Impact previously reported that at least 23 businesses in Georgetown had closed. But many local business owners who stayed open said it was thanks to community support and the opportunity to change operations.

“I had to learn a lot of new tricks,” said The Knitting Cup owner Shawnee Kunz. “Social media became and still is one of my greatest tools.”

Jemme Lynn Wilks, owner of home furnishing store La Bella Casa, said the pandemic had temporarily shaken her day-to-day business but she was still able to break sales records in the 2021 holiday season. Wilks and other local business owners are hoping this holiday season will bring similar results.

“We did a great job last Christmas and I hope to do it again this year,” said Wilks. “We’ve had some changes in our price points over the past few years, but my loyal customers have been very supportive.”

stay in business

Georgetown retailers that have stayed in business during the pandemic said they survived because of their industry, work ethic and customers.

“It was a tough time for everyone,” said Kunz. “Some industries have been hit harder than others, but we really have all been in it together. I am very happy to still be here.”

Loralee St. John, owner of The Golf Ranch, said unlike regular retail or the hospitality industry, she believes the golf industry has boomed.

“I think because people had more free time, they wanted to be outside, they wanted to be safe, so golf just happened to become a popular activity,” St. John said.

Similarly, Kunz said many people took up crafting during the pandemic.

“People wanted to keep their hands busy,” said Kunz. “Knitting is a great way to not only stimulate but also relax your mind.”

Jane Estes, co-owner of Lark & ​​Owl Booksellers, said the book industry as a whole has been doing well, but as a small business and without “next-day delivery” they are being forced to restructure their day-to-day operations.

“We had to rebuild our business structure three times in those two years,” said Estes.

In addition, the City of Georgetown and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce have partnered to award $200,000 in grants to 67 local small businesses, and Williamson County’s Wilco Forward Small Business Grant Program awarded 3,509 grants totaling more than 33.2 million dollars. These programs have been coupled with state and federal assistance, including the Paycheck Protection Program.

Wilks said she was able to keep her doors open and pay staff while she was closed in March and April 2020 because of the support she received from the city and the PPP.

“It made my staff happy, and when we reopened, they were dying to come back,” Wilks said. “Closing my doors was a bit scary, but my loyal customers kept me going.”

Why locality matters

Small purchases can help boost the local economy because of the way sales and use taxes are allocated, city officials said.

“When you shop with us, you’re putting money back directly into our community,” Kunz said. “Not only are you helping me, you’re helping our schools, the police, our streets and our library.”

In Texas, sales and use taxes are collected by the retail store and sent to the Comptroller’s Office. The state withholds 6.25% of the 8.25% tax and sends 2% back to the city.

For online sales, sales tax receipts are returned to the city where the retailer is based, business owners said.

Sales tax is expected to account for 28.46% of the city’s general fund budget for fiscal year 2022-23. The city’s sales tax receipts support the general fund, transportation and road maintenance, economic development, and property tax breaks.

For example, according to a city official, the city has been able to pay for projects like the resurfacing and paving projects scattered throughout Georgetown neighborhoods that are funded solely by sales tax revenues.

“Shopping small and shopping local is critical to the success of Georgetown’s economy,” said Georgetown Downtown Development Manager • • Kim • • McAuliffe. “When you shop local, you help support and strengthen the vibrancy of the community. We are very fortunate to have a large number of small, local businesses in Georgetown that help make our community truly unique and special.”

Several local business owners encouraged holiday shoppers to enjoy time with their families and in their community, and to keep shopping small.

“I hope we have as good a holiday season as we did last year,” Wilks said. “This city is full of charming, wonderful people and I just hope to meet as many of them as possible.”

panning for the future

Local business owners said the supply chain, inflation and labor shortage challenges that have plagued much of the state and nation during the economic recovery from the pandemic have not hampered their operations.

Still, Georgetown businesses incurred other costs as they adapted operations and moved a percentage of their sales online.

“It felt like as soon as we made a profit, it immediately went back to the shipping cost,” Wilks said.

As a result, some prices for products at La Bella Casa have increased slightly, she said.

“In order to keep my quality products in stock, I had to adjust some of my prices,” Wilks said. “But we broke records [at the end of the year] last year and I’m confident that we will do it again.”

Many of these adjustments made as a result of the pandemic will remain in place as they have attracted new customers and added additional revenue streams for retailers.

Kunz said she started doing unboxing videos and short how-to’s to encourage engagement and get the knitting community involved.

“Almost anyone can have a YouTube channel,” Kunz said. “The amount of new support I’ve seen over the past few years is truly heartbreaking.”

Similarly, Estes said her team looked at other outreach strategies. The bookstore has started selling online during the pandemic and continues to offer online shopping with in-store pickup.

Estes said since the reinstatement of his book clubs, author events and other in-person gatherings, community engagement has been at an all-time high.

“People are so happy to be back in public and among people,” Estes said. “We hope that this sense of community will continue to grow.”

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