Even with her family business operating at 25 percent capacity, Nancy McClaren at J&J’s Family Restaurant in Pittsburgh considers herself blessed: Business is “not as good as it was, but not as bad as it could be.” Outside, peeling paint and burn marks surround the storefront’s bright green-and-yellow façade, but the look doesn’t much matter because most of the business now is by delivery. McClaren almost gave up during a ban on in-person dining, but then the owners of Shop ’n Save next door said they had $300 to feed employees—what could J&J do with that? McClaren’s team delivered sausage, bacon, home fries, and French toast: “Felt like divine intervention.”
Other enterprises have also had it tough. North Carolina health regulations allow five customers at once inside Unique Highly Favored Beauty Supply Store. That’s more customers than owner Artesa McLean sees on many days. The first black-owned beauty supply store in Whiteville, an eastern North Carolina town of 5,000, has bubblegum-pink walls displaying hairpieces and styling tools. “Black Lives Matter” shirts hang facing windows overlooking Main Street and a set of rusted train tracks. McLean ships specialty hairpieces and skin products to beauty professionals across the country, but they are also suffering, and she hasn’t attracted local customers. If sales don’t improve within two months, McLean plans a move to Lumberton, 35 miles away, in search of “a bigger crowd.”
In Belvidere, N.J., Vincent’s Hair Cuttery Plus faces the only traffic light in town. On Jan. 9 Vincent Carlucci cut one man’s hair. The other seven chairs—four turned toward the wall—were empty. Leafless philodendron vines climbed the salon wall toward the light of an upper window. Taco John’s in Altoona, Iowa, was more lively, although the dining room was empty: All of the fast-food restaurant’s employees now focus on the drive-thru, which prides itself on having a speed eight seconds faster than brand average.
Speed is also essential on Saturday morning in the Stone Ridge suburb of San Antonio: When one high-intensity workout at Orangetheory Fitness ended, Kalista Stephens grabbed the gray plastic utility wagon housing the bottles and wipes she uses to—presumably—remove any stray COVID-19 risk. The medicinal odor of the green disinfectant in her paint sprayer was so pungent that it penetrated her black mask trimmed with orange. As pop music pulsed, she raced under the glow of orange lights to finish before the next group arrived. Classes now feel full at 75 percent. Location is vital for Orangetheory and for Inclusion Coffee, a student hangout close to the University of Texas at Arlington.