LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Like everything else in 2020, this holiday season is different from all the rest.
In Lakeland, businesses are signing up for “Small Business Everyday” through the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce.
It’s a database of shops and restaurants that includes websites for online shopping and ways to purchase gift cards.
“Spend the money now on a gift card, we would love that. The gift cards, they’ll last for a long time. Come in at your convenience. They’re a very convenient gift,” said Christine Boring, co-owner at Bungalow Boutique & Gifts on Florida Avenue in Lakeland.
“If you do love [escape rooms], if you’re comfortable coming in, we do all the COVID protocols to keep you comfortable or get a gift card or come in when you are comfortable,” said Ana Gillespie, co-owner at Lakeland Escape Room.
You can help them this holiday season by visiting the “Small Business Everyday” page.
Like shop owners in Lakeland, restaurant owners say they are surviving through the pandemic but not thriving.
“Every time you start to think that things are going to start picking back up and you can start getting back to normal, something just happens and you go backwards again,” said Jennifer Rednock, owner of Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi in Lakeland.
Rednock, who also owns two Tsunami Sushi restaurants in Winter Haven, said the Lakeland restaurant is still struggling the most.
“We’re definitely nowhere near our regular pre-COVID revenue. We’re only operating at 60% capacity. We don’t even have a demand for anything more than that right now,” she said.
According to the National Restaurant Association, 110,000 restaurants have closed in the U.S. since the pandemic began.
In Lakeland, restaurants have stayed open but it’s taken creativity and hard work.
“There doesn’t seem to be any sort of sense of emergency on the verge of closing their doors. That doesn’t mean they’re rolling in the dough and sitting high. I think it’s a struggle every single day,” said Julie Townsend, executive director of Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.
More than 5,800 Polk County small businesses, including Rednock’s, received federal CARES Act money in the start of the pandemic.
In total, Polk County doled out $19.3 million to small businesses, according to county officials.
Business owners and their advocates want Congress to pass another aid package to provide some financial relief.
“It would definitely be a great idea for them to offer small businesses something else to help them if it’s needed because we just can’t predict what the future’s going to hold with this pandemic,” said Rednock.
“This is something that is not isolated to a city or a state or a region. We have to come together as a nation and make sure that the small businesses are taken care of the same as Wall Street is,” said Townsend.