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It’s been about a year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic and Utah had its first cases. What was the moment you knew this was serious? What’s your life been like in the year since? What’s changed for you the most? Did you get COVID-19? Have you been or do you plan to get vaccinated?KUER is collecting listener stories reflecting on a year of COVID-19. Leave us a message at (801) 609-1163.

A Year Apart: How Utah’s Small Businesses Have Fared During The Pandemic

Lightbox sign that reads 'We Are Open Again.'
Forty percent of small businesses in Utah have already returned to normal operations, according to a surve from the U.S. Census Bureau’s. Another 22% expect to return to normal within six months.

For Dolores Medina, the pandemic has been the worst kind of roller coaster ride.

“Up and down, highs and lows,” Medina said. “And sometimes I want to get off.”

Medina owns El Farol, a mexican restaurant in Midvale that’s been in her family for more than 50 years. It was passed down to her from her parents, and their parents before them.

She said when restaurants were forced to close last March due to public health orders, times were tough. But she said families who had come to the restaurant for generations rallied to keep it afloat. That showed her how much the restaurant meant to the community.

A photo of Dolores Medina.
Jon Reed
Medina stands in front of art her niece painted.

“Believe me, there were nights when I wanted to give up,” she said. “Losing so much in business during the beginning of COVID, you feel like a loser. You feel lost. You don't have the answers.”

But the community support helped light a fire under her, giving her the inspiration to reinvent the restaurant and her role as the face of it. She gave the restaurant a new look, repainting the walls in bright colors and putting up artwork from family and friends. She said it became more of a reflection of her personality and her family’s roots.

Change came to Mahonry De Aquino too. He owns Chopper Landscaping, which operates across the Wasatch Front. When the pandemic first hit, he said his clients began backing out of their contracts.

“That was when I really started thinking this is going to be bad,” De Aquino said. “Because in order to survive we needed to keep working. It was pretty scary.“

He said he had to invest in cleaning supplies and boosted his online marketing. While he fell short of his 2020 goals, business did rebound, thanks in part to Utah’s booming housing market and people investing in outdoor spaces.

De Aquino and Medina are examples of the resiliency that Silvia Castro said small business owners across the state have shown. She’s the head of the Suazo Business Center, which helps entrepreneurs from minority and underserved communities start and grow their businesses.

Castro said some of the businesses her organization works with did have to shut down, though most were able to make things work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s small business survey, 3 out of 5 Utah companies have fully recovered or expect to be fully recovered by September. About 17% of them reported large negative impacts from the pandemic, compared to 28% nationally.

Castro said that while Utah has recovered better than most states, the biggest takeaway is to not forget about the people who’ve been hit the hardest.

“Whether they were women, multicultural communities or the rural community, are we providing opportunities for them to also maybe rise up from this in a better way?” she said. “Utah is considered to be a state where there's a lot of economic opportunity. I would love to see us really show that and help people out of however COVID impacted them.”

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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