Pandemic effects, sales and openings: Here's what Michiana businesses faced in 2021

While many thought 2020 was a doozy of a year, 2021 seemed to laugh and say "hold my beer."

Much of what occurred in 2020 still resonates throughout 2021, as area business owners adjusted and adapted.

And as we round out the year, this is my attempt to concisely summarize what many area businesses dealt with and did this year.

Local business sales and new owners

A For Sale sign sits outside Stella’s Bar and Grill on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, in North Liberty.
A For Sale sign sits outside Stella’s Bar and Grill on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, in North Liberty.

While 2020 kickstarted a wave of area businesses shuttering that continues even today, a fair share of local business owners have opted to sell their longtime businesses in 2021.

Businesses such as Simeri’s Old Town Tap, Emporium, Stella’s Bar and Grill, House of Andala Lamp Shoppe, and Bruno’s Pizza in Granger were all listed for sale in 2021.

Others like Spirited, The Oaken Bucket, event space The Brick, Southgate and Tire Rack have switched hands.

Reasons behind the listings vary, from owners simply wanting a change of pace or plans to retire. Others were a direct effect of the pandemic with Emporium owner Ben Ganey saying the decision to close and sell the more than 40-year-old business was related to pressures on the restaurant industry caused by COVID-19 and "that it is time to move on from the restaurant business."

► List: Here are the Michiana businesses that closed, and ones that opened, during the pandemic

While it may seem like the uptick in listings has increased, local retail experts say it's no more than usual.

“(It) doesn’t seem like it's out of the ordinary because it's what I see every year,” said John Mester, broker with NAI Cressy. “There’s a natural turnover of doing business and life in general. I think we’ll continue to see, as (we do) every year, impacts especially with economic changes like the supply chain backup and the crazy inflation — that’s certainly going to have an impact over the last few years.”

Navigating comfortability with vaccine rollout, new variants

Angel Horn, a server at The Lauber in South Bend, brings salads out to customer Karl Hopkins and his wife, Dawn Hopkins in March 2021.
Angel Horn, a server at The Lauber in South Bend, brings salads out to customer Karl Hopkins and his wife, Dawn Hopkins in March 2021.

As the vaccine rollout has continuously expanded and state and local mask mandates relaxed in the spring time, many business owners began to stagger their own relaxations in response.

Many have kept in place pandemic-era sanitation processes and protections like keeping plastic shields at registers, rigorously sanitizing high-touch areas and expanding outdoor eating options.

But businesses also began allowing vaccinated employees to forgo wearing masks during shifts and moving tables a bit closer to one another.

But variants of the virus have complicated things.

In August, New York City required proof of COVID-19 vaccination for people to enter indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues in light of the delta variant. Four months later, other larger cities such as Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C. announced a similar mandate to be in effect in January 2022 in light of the delta and omicron variant.

So far, the St. Joseph County health department has not initiated any new mandates since the mask order was rescinded in May. Deputy health officer Dr. Mark Fox told The Tribune in July that he and county health officer Dr. Robert Einterz would consider proposing another emergency order on masking in indoor public spaces if the delta variant surge overly stressed hospital resources, as happened in 2020 under the first virus.

And that seems to be happening now. Elkhart General reported a pandemic record of 71 coronavirus hospitalizations twice recently, while Memorial Hospital posted its highest intake of the pandemic on Dec. 9 with 85 patients.

► Facing 'the most difficult stretch': Hospitals brace as COVID patients top delta surge

If county health officials were to pursue a mask or other similar mandate, they would first have to propose it to county council for approval, per a new state law.

How area businesses may respond to the recent uptick in hospitalizations remains to be seen, but as many owners have stated before, they’ll likely continue to communicate with employees and customers about best practices to move forward and continue to find ways to serve guests based on their comfortability levels.

"We’ll continue to let the staff and customers drive the decision making," PEGGS co-owner Peg Dalton told the Tribune in August. "And, of course, if there is any sort of mandate, we’re on board."

Pandemic economic side effects

Fast food restaurants have been particularly hard hit by a labor shortage locally. Some of them have had to operate short-staffed or change hours to compensate for a lack of staff. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA
Fast food restaurants have been particularly hard hit by a labor shortage locally. Some of them have had to operate short-staffed or change hours to compensate for a lack of staff. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

As the economy rebounds from the pandemic-induced recession, many businesses were left reeling.

Demand for goods and services quickly became greater than the supply chain’s ability to satisfy those wants, Ball State economist Michael Hicks told the Tribune, ultimately causing issues in staffing, supply chain issues and inflation.

The first immediate recovery conundrum was staffing. While needing more employees isn’t necessarily a new issue for businesses, operators blamed enhanced unemployment benefits and other programs — that were halted in September — in struggling to fill job vacancies to serve customers who were coming out in droves to spend money they had saved during the pandemic.

But Mitchell Olsen, a marketing professor at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame said he believes factors related to the jobs themselves are making them harder to fill, especially when job seekers see other opportunities in other industries with less stress and better pay and benefits, such as the RV industry in Elkhart County.

“People are finding the next best alternative from working in retail or restaurant as one of the more attractive options,” said Olsen in May. “We’re seeing one industry that was upended in a negative way, to some respect, but then we are living near an industry that benefited the most with the RV industry.”

► A tale of two economies: Some businesses thrived during the pandemic

Even as boosted federal and state unemployment benefits have ceased, staffing remains an issue for many retail and restaurant businesses, who have adapted by adjusting hours and limiting seating.

The supply chain was also strained this year as ports have been at near capacity for decades and a shortage of truck drivers needed to move products, meaning nearly every business dealt with shortages to some degree. Business owners noted availability of goods like chicken, paper goods and other odds and ends seemed to be missing every week, requiring them to offer alternative options.

"The supply chain isn’t broken," Hicks told the Tribune in November. "It's mostly just stretched."

► Fact check: Cargo backlog due to supply chain snags, not executive order

And as the supply chain demand has grown, inflation has also started to impact consumerism with costs of food, gas and other goods increasing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall inflation has increased by 6.2% over the past 12 months, and the price of food consumed at home has increased by 5.4%.

“There is no question that this has been a tough year,” Isabella Chism, second vice president of Indiana Farm Bureau, said in a release. “Coming off the heels of the pandemic, widespread supply chain issues are pushing prices higher and the economy is stretched.”

Notable openings

Finishing touches are all that remain before opening inside the new Trader Joe’s store on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, in South Bend.
Finishing touches are all that remain before opening inside the new Trader Joe’s store on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, in South Bend.

And even in light of pandemic fallout, many businesses still found a way to open.

After years of rumors and wishes, Trader Joe's opened a South Bend location in August. The California-based grocer anchors the southern portion of Eddy Street Commons at 1140 E. Howard Street and opened to a line of people that wrapped around the building at 8 a.m. It is the fourth Trader Joe's in the Hoosier state.

"There was a lot of South Bend resident and Michiana demand," store manager John McCall said. "We usually locate stores based on requests, letter, emails, phone calls. … So why now, is it's clearly the demand and we hear great things about the South Bend and Mishawaka area — it's growing and getting on the map."

► Development: Notre Dame alumni, economy and South Bend policy change drive a building boom near campus

Other larger businesses like Mission BBQ, Rose and Remington, Boot Barn, Aspen Tap House and Chick-Fil-A have also opened locations in the Michiana area.

But, more excitedly in my mind, many local businesses have opened and expanded this year as well.

Whistle Stop Ice Cream opened in its modest booth inside the Commerce Building in downtown South Bend. Breakfast and lunch spot Early Bird Eatery opened inside the Dainty Maid building also in downtown South Bend, as did Pink Lemonade Pastries.

The Cloud Walking Collective — comprised of businesses such as chocolatier Violet Sky, baker The Elder Bread, patisserie Love and Macarons and cafe Cloud Walking — moved into their new space inside the former Merrimans' Playhouse (who are now in the Commerce Center building) on Mishawaka Avenue.

Local plant business Botany initially opened as a popup in May but has since grown into its own brick and mortar location on South Bend's near northwest side.

In Elkhart, charcuterie business Graze by Erica opened in downtown, as did three new eateries inside the newly renovated Hotel Elkhart. And, in Mishawaka, Rapha Roast Coffee parks its new trailer at the Ball Band Biergarten on weekdays to serve its air-roasted coffee.

While this may just be a sampling of what's happened this year, there are plans for even more to come. Stick with Market Basket for an update on what to expect in 2022 and committed continuous local retail and restaurant coverage.

Have a happy new year!

Contact Mary Shown at 574-235-6244 and mshown@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @maryshownSBT and @marketbasketSBT.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Market Basket: 2021 South Bend retail and restaurant news in review