First-year business owner thrives during pandemic without government financial assistance

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:21 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - As stimulus negotiations are put on ice, a Birmingham business owner encouraged other entrepreneurs to not wait on the government to save them, but to get creative to save themselves.

Bizarre The Coffee Bar at 217 22nd St N, Downtown Birmingham, celebrated their first year of businesses in September.

However, because they are a new business and didn’t have enough credit yet, the owner, Will Harvill, said they were not eligible for federal financial assistance through the CARES Act. They had to weather the pandemic storm on their own.

“We put our head down and grinded,” Harvill explained.

Like a good cup of coffee, Harvill stayed strong and came up with a way to be considered an essential business, so the place could remain open during the state’s “Safer at Home” order.

“For almost 4 months we were one of the only bars in downtown Birmingham that was even open,” Harvill said.

With downtown pretty much deserted, they felt the financial pinch, and Harvill had to furlough some employees. But, he got back to businesses and started brewing up ideas to keep the drinks flowing.

“When COVID hit, there was nobody downtown to even buy coffee. So, we altered our hours to take advantage of the fact that we also sell food and alcohol, that made us ‘essential’," Harvill explained.

They also opened his doors to other black-owned businesses, hosting pop-up shops and carrying the products of local entrepreneurs.

“Our artwork is done by Executive Art which is a wonderful group of brothers who actually live in the city of Birmingham. My Sweetheart Bakery, out of Fairfield, which is a local cake company-- we sell anywhere from 150 to 250 slices of cake a week,” Harvill said.

Harvill says he hopes to inspire other business owners unable to get federal aid, to not give up.

“There are so many opportunities out here because so many businesses are closed. If you’re open, then you’re reaping the benefits of all those who aren’t out here. Find a way to reinvent yourself. Find a way to tailor yourself to the current market,” said Harvill.

Harvill has no plans of slowing down, he acquired a nearby parking lot so that they can host more socially distanced events in the future.

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