CHESHIRE — Local businesses have had to adapt to and overcome a lot throughout the pandemic.
For some, it meant completely changing their business model, shifting focus to a different clientele or offering products to meet the new needs of their customers. For others, it meant a slight shift in their day-to-day operations, with a pivot back to mostly “business as usual” once the pandemic began to subside.
But all of them are now preparing for life after the crisis and trying to figure out exactly what will work moving forward, and what should be left in the past.
Pop’s Pizza, 528 West Main St., is celebrating a milestone this year — a 35th anniversary in Cheshire. For owner Pete DeBisschop, it took adapting quickly to the most popular form of dining during the pandemic to ensure that his popular eatery would be open to mark the occasion.
“Really, what saved us is the outdoor patio seating we created during the pandemic,” he said. “We still had a large amount of takeout orders coming through, but the patio allowed for people who may have either forgotten about us or have never heard of us the chance to come in and see what we have to offer.”
While the local pizza shop has always had a steady stream of customers, the new outdoor fixtures added a whole new vibe to the venue, one that is still paying off.
“We like to call it ‘pizza under the palms’,” said Brian DeBisschop, Pete’s son. “It really attracted new customers and still continues to. The people who are out riding their bikes on the trail will come by for a slice and sit outside. That never happened before.”
The outdoor patio is full of palm trees and flamingo stakes, everything needed to quickly transport a customer into a tropical beach state of mind.
“I plan to keep it (open) until around Thanksgiving time, and then who knows if I will still be allowed to have it,” DeBisschop said. Because of the pandemic, various zoning restrictions limiting such outdoor seating spaces were lifted to allow for businesses to set up where they would normally have parking spaces, and DeBisschop is unsure if and when those restrictions will be reimposed.
Calcagni Real Estate has also adjusted to doing business during a global pandemic by launching a whole new way for potential homebuyers to view properties.
“We have this new feature where anyone can go into a home, pick up an iPad, and have a real estate agent walk you through the house over the screen,” explained Antonio Liguori, president of Calcagni Real Estate. “This opens up so many possibilities for us. Buyers don’t have to make an appointment. If they see a home on the street, they can just walk in and get a showing with one of our realtors.”
Liguori explained that this type of viewing, while not ideal for all potential buyers, is perfect for those who are looking to do a cross-country move.
“This also works the other way around. We can show houses to clients in California who are looking to buy here in Connecticut,” he added. “We just recently sold a home entirely over FaceTime.”
The new business approach has also increased productivity.
“Now realtors don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort driving all over the state to show homes,” Liguori said. “They can do it virtually anywhere, and that has been so successful for us.”
The local wedding and event planning business, Pink Olive, was hit hard during the pandemic, with nearly all in-person events canceled for the entire year of 2020. That’s when owner Carisa Lockery had an idea.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t I bring the business to my customers?’ That’s when I created the ‘Something Borrowed Mobile,’” she said. “We really had to adjust everything this year, and this seemed to be a perfect fit for us.”
Lockery and her team at Pink Olive renovated a used RV and turned it into a mobile bridal suite, equipped with everything from hair and makeup stations to a dressing room.
“This way, we could bring all our services to the bride and not have to worry about setting up in an area that might not be (COVID-19) safe,” Lockery said.
While the mobile bridal suite is a relatively new offering, Lockery explained that it had been booked for a handful of weddings during COVID-19.
“The suite is definitely a novelty, but it’s proven to be super-useful during all of this,” said Lockery, who credited it with helping to stave off financial disaster.
“It has definitely elevated our business to be able to provide more services at a time when we were almost shut down for good,” she said.