IDEAS: ‘It’s one day at a time,’ but hope is strong, small business owner says

Sara Stathes owns Barrel House in downtown Dayton with her husband, Gus. She is in the center next to daughters and Ellie and Dylan.
Sara Stathes owns Barrel House in downtown Dayton with her husband, Gus. She is in the center next to daughters and Ellie and Dylan.

Note from Dayton Daily News Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: this guest column appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Sunday, June 21. Other columns featured that day are linked below. 

Sara Stathes owns The Barrel House in downtown Dayton with her husband, Gus.

Running a small business during the pandemic has been like flying a plane blind and without the slightest idea how to fly a plane.

We owned The Barrel House for a little over two years before the pandemic hit. The first two years were not without their challenges, of course. We’ve worked hard, and we have thrown every ounce of ourselves into our business. Along with our community, we’ve been through major traumas and came out the other side.

Pre-pandemic our business was healthy, thriving even — we had planned to expand this year. Now that will not be happening. Our space is small and cozy, with big comfy couches and community seating, not a great model for a pandemic.

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When the stay-at-home order was issued, we made the weighty decision to close temporarily. We felt it was the prudent thing to do for the health of our families, staff and customers. During the time we were closed, we figured out how to sell our gift certificates online (with the help of Kait Gilcher from Heart Mercantile). Technology is not our forte and we had no idea how to do it. We were able to sell enough gift certificates online to begin to rebuild our inventory, which was wiped out immediately before the shut down.

On May 1 we reopened for carryout and curbside pickup. We did so in a way that we felt was safe. We offer curbside pickup, require guests who come inside to wear a mask and we wear masks. We have increased things like cleaning and hand-washing, and allow only one customer inside at a time (or couples from the same household) to cut down on contact of the products on the shelves.

We are basically serving as a personal shopper to each customer. It has been great to see some of our customers again, and the support has been amazing. But our business model is not one that can survive on carryout alone. Draft beer is where the margins are.

The future is uncertain for our business — something we’ve worked so hard for — and it’s terrifying. We have yet to set a date for reopening on-premise.

We don’t believe it is safe yet and can’t figure out a way to do it safely in the limited space that we have. So for now it’s one foot in front of the other, taking each day and its challenges as they come. We desperately hope to reopen fully again and to get back to the things that we believe make The Barrel House great. Things like our various charity events, Wu-Tang Wednesday, Vinyl Vinyl Sunday, etc.

Until then, it’s one day at a time, and we sincerely hope we can come out the other side, stronger than ever.