With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in our nation this spring, our local community was faced with an unprecedented event. While residents hunkered down at home, Fishers businesses had to find a way to adapt their business models to stay afloat during the crisis.

Restaurants planning for a busy spring of packed dining rooms had to shift their focus to takeout and delivery options to continue operations. Four Day Ray Brewing, located in the heart of Fishers’ downtown Nickel Plate District, began offering curbside pickup with a limited menu featuring customer favorites like the Indiana Tenderloin, Nashville Hot Chicken, and burgers. They also experimented with adding new “comfort food” items like a Coney Dog to the menu, and debuted new beers for carryout, such as Ray’s Lager, which was released in April.

Retailers like Gallery 116, who rely heavily on in-store sales and foot traffic, had to get creative. By selling locally-made face masks, the boutique found a way to fulfill a community need while staying true to their mission of supporting local artisans. Face masks for both adults and kids were available for online ordering and no-contact, curbside pickup, and flew off the shelves as artisans worked to keep up with the community demand. Gallery 116 also stocked up on DIY craft kits and puzzles in their online store to provide Fishers residents with unique entertainment options during the Stay-At-Home order.

Fishers District newcomer Havana Cigar Lounge had planned their extravagant grand opening for mid-March, complete with live music, ice sculptures, champagne, and caviar to showcase the VIP experiences offered at the lounge. However, the event had to be quickly reimagined due to the outbreak.

“It would have been senseless and out of touch for us to be celebrating at a time when the community was grieving,” said Havana Cigar Lounge owner Omar Barham. “The best natural thing to do was to dedicate this money and resources to help our community. Giving back to first responders and city employees just became a priority.”

Havana Cigar Lounge altered their grand opening to focus on providing 500 free meals to first responders within the community. Their initiative was covered by national news media and Barham said, “the positive reviews and high spirit gave employees the strength to believe in what this business is all about.”

Many other businesses also embraced the opportunity to give back those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four Day Ray introduced a gift card program to honor frontline workers. Each week, they accepted nominations from the public to recognize and tell the stories of 20 frontline workers in our community. Each worker received a gift card to thank them for their service.

“We distributed gift cards to delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, healthcare workers, and others in our community who helped to make sure things continued to move forward during the outbreak,” said Brian Graham, owner of Four Day Ray Brewing. Geist-based Pearl Street Pizzeria launched their Superhero Pizza program to support local healthcare workers. By adding $10 onto their carry-out order or donating via Paypal, customers could sponsor a pizza for healthcare workers in our community. With this initiative, more than 100 pizzas were delivered to workers at IU Health Saxony, St. Vincent Hospital, Community North, and the Fishers Fire Department.

Business owners say that while navigating a pandemic has been incredibly difficult, it has been a good learning experience and helped to them to grow.

Andrus says now both Pearl Street Pizzeria and Pure Eatery have online ordering options, which is something she has been wanting to do for a while but could never find the time. Carryout and delivery are now available at both restaurants for customers who prefer to dine at home. The restaurants also created Re-Opening Standard Operating Procedures to keep customers and staff safe.

“Some days the shutdown felt too heavy and we weren’t sure that we could withstand the weight, and other days we were energized and ready to spend time improving our systems and changing our processes,” said Andrus. “With a slower pace due to social distancing we’ve had a chance to focus even more on our service. Our staff is small but mighty, and they deserve a round of applause for their tenacity.”

Barham, a longtime Fishers resident, says he’s never been happier to live and do business in this community.

“As a business owner, this experience has been very humbling. I learned that nothing is guaranteed and I always need to be creative,” said Barham. “I became a better problem solver and I think in a way more optimistic about life and the need to see the positive side of things.”

Gritter says that Gallery 116’s online sales have never been stronger. While before the outbreak she rarely had time to work on the online store, now it has become second nature and website sales will be an asset to her business in the future.

“The thing about being a business owner is you have to be flexible and not afraid of change and always be open to opportunity,” said Gritter. “It may not work out, or it may work out for the best. You will never know unless you try. I always feel adversity will only make you better and stronger as a person and as a business.”

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