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Small business owners fear rising COVID cases will lead to more shutdowns

'Please just let me stay in business so I don't go broke,' business owner DeAnna Allen pleaded.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On the backside of the brick and glass buildings of The Centro Railyard Apartments, you’ll find a boutique with images of women of every shade lining the walls and a small business owner who is hoping holiday shoppers will find a hidden gem that will keep her entrepreneurial dream shining.

The Brown Sugar Collab curates hand-crafted items like candles, soaps and handbags, all made by women of color, and gives them a prime retail space.

“I wanted to be able to give them a chance to have their products in front of a larger audience,” business owner DeAnna Allen said. “I want to give them a larger platform and to give them some exposure.”

The boutique relies on foot traffic, but these days, with more people working from home, there aren't as many people walking by.

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“Our sales are inconsistent,” Allen said.

As we move into the holiday season, this small business owner, and all of the artists she elevates, are counting on local support to keep the doors open.

“Not only are they helping us support our businesses but we’re supporting our families off of these earnings,” she said. “You’re keeping our doors open, keeping our lights on, not just commercially but also in our homes and within our families.”

The next few weeks could be make-or-break for many of the small businesses in our community, Megan Gude, the vice president of South End for Center City Partners, said.

“This year, it just matters more than ever,” Gude cautioned.

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Center City Partners is helping to reimagine Small Business Saturday this holiday season, morphing the event into a month of Saturdays, market-style.

“All of the special events that we’re doing are outside,” Gude said. “So, we’ll have holiday markets that will be each of the four Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are all outside. Everyone will be masked. Everything will be distanced.”

According to estimates from Yelp, more than 97,000 businesses have permanently closed over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

As states across the country introduced new restrictions, North Carolina saw a series of record-breaking days of COVID-19 cases.

NC Gov. Roy Cooper announced a county alert map Tuesday that warns residents about the COVID-19 spread in their communities and can help local leaders drive policies and mandates.

RELATED: Tracking coronavirus data: Carolinas outbreak map

The governor said if the counties do not take action on the local level, or if the cases begin to surge, he will likely announce an executive order.

Local restaurant owners are preparing for another potential shutdown of indoor dining, too.

“I’ve been preparing for this, for a more recent shutdown or stricter conditions for several months,” Chef Jen Brule, owner of the Davidson Ice House, said.

Brule recently installed a to-go window at the front of her restaurant to cater to customers that are hesitant to come inside now, and who may not be able to come inside later.

RELATED: Small business in uptown get creative to keep cash flowing during pandemic

“I think if I just sat on my laurels and continued running my restaurant the way it was 10 months ago, I wouldn’t be in business,” Brule said.

As Thanksgiving approaches, Brule expanded her menu offerings to include Thanksgiving dinner to-go. She said she is finding many things to be thankful for, despite the challenges.

“I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned through this,” Brule said. “I try to look at every situation as a potential for growth and learning.”

At Bar Marcel, a European Café in the heart of South Park, owner Kevin Jennings said it has been a challenge to change operating hours, schedules and staffing levels.

RELATED: New restaurants are still opening in Charlotte, but not without challenges

Still, every day he is allowed to be open at all, is a good day, he said.

“Having the opportunity to do some business as opposed to none is absolutely significantly better,” Jennings said.

In the last few months, Jennings has been forced to slice the staffing numbers at all nine of his Urban Food Group restaurants.

“Prior to COVID, we had 443 employees," Jennings said. "We maybe have 130 now. We’re certainly not out of the woods as it is now.”

Jennings said, on the positive side, the pandemic has given him more appreciation for others and an ability to see that people have very different perspectives and experiences. But, he also said, from his perspective, it is stressful and frustrating to navigate limited operational hours, reduced capacities, and potential closures.

He hopes the health and government leaders take that into account when making decisions about shutting down businesses.

“It doesn’t seem fair to the 99% that we’re gonna crush society entirely so that we can save this 1% when we know who they are, let’s focus on them,” he said. “Please let me just stay in business so I don’t go broke and lose everything that we worked for for 22 years.”