We started this year with a familiar theme as businesses continued to navigate the consequences of the pandemic. Back in January, mask mandates and restrictions on how many people could occupy the same space still was a thing, inhibiting the ability of some businesses to prosper.

One of the saving graces for restaurants proved to be curbside service, which remains popular, and some owners told us their business likely wouldn’t still be around if they hadn’t adapted to offer it. Among those teetering on closure was On the River.

“I spent the better part of the last 33 years building the restaurant in Freeport, and it’s struggling,” owner Drew Ryder told us for a story published last Jan. 23. “If we hadn’t gotten the (Paycheck Protection Program) money last year, we would not have made it to 2021.”

Three weeks after that interview, the freeze hit, leaving businesses without electricity for days. Restaurants with electricity couldn’t serve fountain drinks because of boil orders related to the outages. Store shelves — at least stores that could be open — were stripped of essentials, and there wasn’t a hotel room anywhere to be found.

When normalcy seemed to be coming into view, Hurricane Nicholas hit. While the damage didn’t make it too far inward, iconic Surfside Beach restaurant Red Snapper had to shut down for months to rebuild after the storm surge caused extensive damage. Electricity again proved to be an issue; it would be a week before everyone’s lights were back on.

The pandemic also hasn’t gone away, with a new variant and another holiday season surge upon us.

It has been a tough couple of years for small businesses around us. Even in good times, about one-fifth of new businesses will shut their doors within two years. That number increases to almost half within five years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Two-thirds won’t make it to 10 years.

Thankfully, residents have responded to our struggling small businesses by supporting them as much as possible, including during the Christmas season. Preliminary numbers show sales increased 8.5 percent from Nov. 1 to Christmas compared to a year ago, according to Mastercard. The five-year average increase was about 4.4 percent.

There is plenty for businesses to be positive about heading into 2022, but nothing would help them more than for shoppers not to wait for a crisis to walk through the doors and open their wallets. Christmas only comes once a year, but we can support our small business owners — the foundation of our local retail economy — every day of the year.

And we should.

REAL LOVE STORY

Six years ago, Bobby Wall applied at a smoothie bar. He ended up with a much bigger prize than a job.

Harley managed the now-defunct Fresh and Fit back then, and after Bobby went to work there, they formed a strong team both in the shop and away from it. They officially became life partners when they married in November 2020, and on their one-year anniversary, opened the doors on their business partnership.

Lovebirds, a smoothie and juice bar at 104-B This Way in Lake Jackson, is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The location is fitting as it’s right next door to the storefront Fresh and Fit once called home.

Their passion for health and wellness — and each other — is what makes the business stand apart, Bobby Wall said. It is a pretty fantastic backstory that makes you want to see the Brazosport natives succeed.

“What sets us apart is we don’t use artificial sweeteners or syrups,” he said. “We don’t use any ice. No other place in town has a Good Nature cold-pressed juicer.”

They purchased that juicer last spring, just a couple of months after they started laying the groundwork for the business. They also sell traditional smoothies, but the juicer’s health benefits make that option worth considering.

“In juice, with a cold-pressed juice, it’s giving your digestive system a rest,” Wall said. “It doesn’t have all the fiber and protein. It’s going to have all the antioxidants and nutrients without your digestive system having to process them.”

Lovebirds are in a good spot right in the heart of downtown Lake Jackson. It has hundreds of people working nearby to draw in and a popular product to do it with.

“Things have been nice and steady,” Wall said. “Each week, we’re seeing improvement.”

CLARK’S LATEST SPARK

Jay Clark is a pretty impressive person, given his tenacity to succeed in business. We first wrote about him four years ago when he launched a hip-hop brand, Try 2 Relate. That business is still going and features T-shirts, hats and hoodies.

Six months or so ago, he opened Epic Resale Shop in Second Street off downtown Freeport. He thought that business might not make it, but he decided the space just needed some renovations instead of closing it. Things are going better now, he said.

So it’s time to move on to another venture.

Clark is taking over Schooners off Highway 332 in Freeport, next to Pier 30 Bar and Grill on the way to Surfside Beach. He is still putting together everything in place in anticipation of a Jan. 8 opening, he said.

“It’s gonna be like a bar, but more,” he said. “We want to also host events.”

There are pool tables and other amenities, including patio tables to unwind while sitting next to the water and a dance floor. Hours will mainly be from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, he said, with the space available for private events during the day.

He has one other business plan still cooking, he said — a chicken and waffles place. He is in talks with another business owner about setting that up in their building, but that plan is on hold for now, he said.

RACK ’EM

A couple of weeks back, we told you that Damifino’s Billiards was moving into the old Mulberry Bar and Grill space at 116 W. Mulberry St. in downtown Angleton. Well, all the heavy lifting has been done, and it’s time to welcome folks inside.

They had a full house Tuesday night and almost three-dozen players in the 9-ball tournament. Those who prefer 8-ball can enter the tournament starting at 8 p.m. today.

If they ever have a slop tournament, sign me up.

The grand-opening blowout will be New Year’s Eve and include an 8-ball tournament at 8 p.m., DJ starting at 9 p.m., a photo booth and champagne toast at midnight, with the good times flowing until they shut the place down at 2 a.m.

NEW YEAR, SAME ME

Looking forward to continuing to share news about the local business community and how it keeps growing in the year ahead. Blessings to all those small business owners who keep fighting to make our towns so strong.

If you have any news about business happenings in these parts, drop me an email at michael.morris@thefacts.com.

Michael Morris is managing editor of The Facts. Contact him at 979-237-0144.

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