Columbus' small business owners are still trying to wrap their heads around how COVID-19 has affected their livelihoods. They have made tough choices—from laying off employees to closing altogether.

Between March 15 and March 22, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all of Ohio’s non-essential businesses to close in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Small businesses—restaurants and bars, retail shops, salons and others—were especially hard hit. 

Some have tried to weather the storm by taking their wares and services online, and many are adopting new business strategies that in normal times follow months of planning. Some have closed their doors with plans to reopen. Some have closed permanently. The difference is often whether they have enough cash on hand to stay afloat and whether they’ll be able to get help from disaster relief programs that were part of the $2 trillion federal economic stimulus package.

We spoke with six small Central Ohio businesses—from a one-person eyebrow and lashes studio in Clintonville to a rapidly expanding health care startup in Dublin—to gauge how people are coping with an unprecedented disruption in business as usual. We found a yoyo of emotions: Support for the state shutdown, but frustration with the process of seeking federal help; concern for employees that sometimes trumps concern for their own bottom lines; and a sense that a new normal awaits once Ohio reopens.

When closing the bakery is a giant relief

Stunted by COVID-19, but buoyed by stimulus

Expansion plans up in the air

'We were going in the right direction' before closing for good

A new baby, a new business—and then a global pandemic

Salon owner: COVID-19 'forced me to get over myself'

Bob Vitale and Amy Braunschweiger are freelance writers.