MINT HILL, NC – It’s been over three years since COVID-19 changed the way we lived our lives seemingly overnight. Over the course of those three years, much as returned to “normal.” Few people wear masks in public anymore, kids go to school in person again, and we’re not bombarded by signage directing us to stay six feet from others every time we leave our homes. Nevertheless, the changes we made in response to COVID have undeniably altered the way we live our lives.
An Increased Focus on Wellness
From wearing masks and staying six feet apart to working and learning from home, at the height of the pandemic, we went to extremes to avoid spreading germs. Three years down the line, it’s unusual to see someone in a mask, but germaphobia has stuck around in more subtle ways – like birthday parties.
“We don’t blow out candles on a cake everyone shares anymore!” remarks Erica Larter, noting that she tends to see individual cupcakes at birthday parties in lieu of a shared cake. Post-COVID, it’s hard for Larter to see someone blowing out candles and not imagine germs and spit landing on a cake. Needless to say, she’s a fan of the cupcakes!
Although it’s rare, some people never abandoned the precautions they took on during the pandemic. “I still wear a mask,” says Pit Turner. “I still disinfect groceries, don’t bring my outerwear into the house, and take a shower as soon as I get home.”
Her approach may seem extreme to folks who were counting down the days until they could take their masks off, but it’s paid off for Turner, who claims she hasn’t so much as caught a cold while she’s continued these precautions. In an age bracket where COVID has the potential to cause serious complications, Turner thinks its worth the trade off.
A Changing Landscape for Businesses
For over a year, small businesses were forced to adapt to what seemed like an ever-changing set of COVID regulations. Three years down the line, restaurants can serve indoors at full capacity, but the after-effects of those changes linger.
“I remember my son calling me after work on Friday night and saying we were closing the dining room,” says Big Guy’s Pizza Owner Janet Muller. “The rest, as you know, is history,” she continues. Big Guy’s Pizza closed their door to customers in mid-March of 2020, and their takeout and delivery service was so successful that their dining room remained closed when restaurants across NC were allowed to open at reduced capacity at the end of May. What Muller didn’t know at the time was that the change would be permanent.
Big Guy’s recently started fresh in a new space just a few doors down from their old one. For Muller, the change has been bittersweet. “I miss having families and teams come and all the stories they would tell,” says Muller, “but I’m very happy with the new space and the new design. I love seeing old and new customers come in and watch their faces as they look all around the new space.” Ultimately, Muller is grateful to Mint Hill and all of Big Guy’s customers for getting them through a time that not all small businesses survived.
For other small businesses, COVID provided unexpected opportunities. “During COVID, I went from unemployed to a small business owner,” says Christina Sawyer, Owner of Mini Me Makes It, who found a market for her skills making masks during the pandemic. “Mini Me Makes It went from making and providing masks during our time of need to expanding and making decals and custom apparel,” she continues. Three years later, you can find Sawyer’s products in Kimberli’s Place and Sunny Day Markets as well as online. “It’s more than just work for me,” she concludes. “It gave me a purpose again.”
A Changed Landscape for Workers
In an effort to “stop the spread,” the pandemic led to an abrupt shift in workplace culture. Seemingly overnight, working from home became the norm. In the wake of the pandemic, some employers have embraced flexible schedules and remote work options while others have insisted on a full-time return to the office.
Remote two days a week prior to COVID, Christine transitioned to full-time remote work for a couple of years during the pandemic. “Now I am back in the office two days a week, and they are slowly adding more days back with the goal of being in office five days a week again,” she explains.
After two years of working from home, it’s not a change Christine wants to make. “After experiencing the balance of remote/hybrid schedules, I could never go back to the five-day commute again,” she says. “I have extra time with my kids because I’m not doing that intense hour-long commute back and forth in traffic. I save money on gas and eating out, and I can get my basic household chores done during breaks. At this point, a five-day mandatory work week in the office would mean a resignation for me. I’d take a pay cut over being required in.”