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For Small Businesses, It’s All About the Pivot

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To paraphrase a line from the real estate industry, small businesses, hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus, have had to pivot, pivot, pivot to survive.

Many have made adjustments to the way they conduct their businesses — or have shifted their approaches entirely. In the face of a truly catastrophic financial environment, they have used the creativity that spurred them forward as entrepreneurs to adapt to a business environment no one could have foreseen.

And they have done these things under the stress of laying off employees, shutting down offices or having to give up on their dream entirely. Financial ruin was a distinct possibility and may still be for many small businesses that are barely holding on.

But their goal is the same: to continue their dream, to do what they had been doing on their own terms before the world changed abruptly. They want to own their future as they had owned their past. What they have done — and how they are still doing it — is as varied as the businesses themselves. PAUL SULLIVAN


A San Francisco-based Malaysian chef is keeping busy during the pandemic with a diverse business model that has allowed her to improvise and generate revenue.

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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Azalina Eusope cries every day. “But the food comforts me,” said the 41-year-old chef and owner of Azalina’s, a Malaysian restaurant business in San Francisco.

“Ten years ago, my business started off in a survivor mode,” Ms. Eusope said. “I was selling food under a tent at the farmers’ market. As a newly single mother, I needed income. I prepared the food, and at 4 o’clock in the morning, with my kids sleeping in the car, brought it to the farmers’ market and set up.”

Fast-forward to March 15, when the coronavirus quarantines hit. “Now I’m back in survival mode,” she said.

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“While every recession is different, as in 2008, small businesses today must focus on adaptability and prepare for timid consumers.”

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Credit…Rich Tu

In late 2008, as unemployment soared and consumer spending plummeted, the restaurateur Karl Franz Williams opened a stylish, low-lit cocktail lounge on a gentrifying stretch of Frederick Douglass Boulevard in lower Harlem.

His timing, at the beginning of the global financial crisis, could not have been more inauspicious. With its pricey cocktails and global small-bites menu, 67 Orange Street was an ambitious prospect even during the most ideal economic conditions. And the Great Recession — in which nearly nine million jobs were lost from February 2008 to February 2010 — was hardly ideal.

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When its equipment sales to bars and restaurants plummeted during the pandemic, Cocktail Kingdom successfully turned to consumers.

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Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Greg Boehm recognized early how serious the coronavirus might be. He was flying from New York to Florida to visit family on March 5.

“I could see global travel was impacted,” he said. “It was the unknown, and the unknown is never good for bars and restaurants.”

And that meant it certainly would not be good for Mr. Boehm’s business, Cocktail Kingdom, which designs, manufactures and sells online professional barware to restaurants and bars globally.

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After the lockdown, the owner of Honey Space for Moms had such success going virtual that she is making bigger plans.

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Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

When people tell Brooke Miller they haven’t been sleeping since the coronavirus pandemic started, that they feel anxious and overwhelmed, she smiles and empathizes. To her, it sounds as if they’re experiencing what mothers go through.

“I’m like, ‘See, we told you being a mom is hard,’” said Ms. Miller, who has two young daughters. “You’re changing who you were before, changing who you were supposed to be, changing expectations. And you don’t get any sleep.”

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Iwi Fresh in Atlanta has survived with some creative thinking by its owner, Yolanda Owens.

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Credit…Ben Rollins for The New York Times

As a little girl, Yolanda Owens would soak in warm bathtubs filled with collard greens, garlic and onions to help soothe her skin. “I had eczema, and my grandmother would go out to her garden to find all kinds of vegetables and make up this remedy for me,” Ms. Owens said.

Today, Ms. Owens, 55, owner of the Atlanta-based Iwi Fresh, produces and sells a line of preservative-free skin-care products, including Squash-It-Out Cleanser and 14 Carrot Glow Moisturizer, which are created from her own recipes that blend fruit, vegetables, herbs and essential oils.

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Some of these devices have been around for years but are now being mustered to help keep us safe.

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Credit…Edgar Su/Reuters

Dr. Cristiano Huscher has long used robotics and artificial intelligence for surgical procedures at the Policlinico Abano chain of hospitals in Italy. So when six doctors contracted Covid-19 at his hospital in Sardinia two months ago, he once again turned to technology — in this case, UVD Robots — to disinfect the rooms.

The robot moves autonomously through a room, using ultraviolet-C light to destroy the RNA in a virus and DNA in bacteria, effectively gutting the virus’ ability to infect people and multiply.

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The pandemic has been brutal for owners, but there are many organizations offering loans and grants to help out.

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Credit…Rich Tu

The pain and insecurity of the shock of the coronavirus on small-business owners have been overwhelming. Entrepreneurs have taken extreme steps to stay operational, and many are deeply worried about their prospects in the coming months and beyond.

But help is out there. Federal, state and local governments, as well as communities, corporations and foundations have stepped up with financial resources.

For a small business trying to stay afloat during the shock of the coronavirus, every little bit of financial aid can have a bearing on their future.

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What to do with a business that involves close physical contact with clients? Innovate and, if you’re lucky, grow — but at a distance.

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Credit…Stephen Speranza for The New York Times

The routine has been the same for six years.

On Saturday mornings, Jason Atlas changes into a T-shirt, a pair of comfortable shorts and lightweight training shoes, then heads down to the basement gym of his home in Dix Hills, N.Y., on Long Island, where precisely at 10 a.m., he meets his personal trainer, Matt Sulam, for an hourlong, strength-training workout.

Mr. Sulam, 48, an independent contractor who until recently saw most of his clients in their homes, has become a familiar presence since he was first hired by Mr. Atlas, a lawyer, in January 2014.

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For some companies, like Mike’s Organic Delivery, embracing higher demand without changing their core strategy is the key to survival.

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Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Mike Geller spent the better part of a decade tweaking the focus of Mike’s Organic Delivery, which he founded in 2009. Early on, the model was similar to a community-supported agriculture program, or C.S.A., where customers agreed to receive whatever food was in season.

By the third year, the company was up to about 200 deliveries a week: in Fairfield County in Connecticut and Westchester County in New York. Access to organic produce was more widespread and customers wanted options other than a preselected basket. So he created an online organic market, to allow people to pick the fruit, vegetables and meat that they wanted in advance.

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