David Presnell, co-owner of Painting with a Twist in Fort Walton Beach, has good news for the nine instructors he employs.
"I’m telling our instructors now that we’ll plan to open for small private functions of 12 people or less the first week of June," said Presnell, who along with his wife, Barbara, owns the business. "Maybe a week or two later, we’ll open to small public classes."
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Like other local business owners/operators, Presnell has weathered the coronavirus crisis so far and is staying positive about the road ahead.
"We’ll survive it," he said of the pandemic. "I think once things are stable, our business is a type of stress reliever, and that will manifest itself well."
Painting with a Twist offers the opportunity to create art while enjoying adult beverages with friends.
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"We’re not a retail business," Presnell said. "We have a bottle club license."
Painting with a Twist opened in May 2016. The pandemic caused the business to stop offering public classes in its studio on March 22.
For the past couple of months, the business has offered "Twist kits," which Presnell said contain all the materials for someone to be able to paint at home and are available for curbside pickup.
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Presnell and his wife partnered with the local company called Errand Catchers to deliver the kits to customers in the local area.
He called the pandemic the "single weirdest turn of events I have ever experienced. There is no precedent for it. There is no way the unemployment system could anticipate that. I don’t know what the answer is…once it passes and the curve flattens, we can start spending again."
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For businessman Nate Vanatter, one of the biggest challenges during the coronaviris crisis has been finding people to work for less pay than what they can receive from unemployment compensation.
With his business partner Michael Kee, Vanatter owns Props Brewery and Taproom in Fort Walton Beach, Props Brewery and Grill in FWB and Props Ale House in Niceville. The three businesses opened in 2011, 2016 and 2018, respectively.
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When the businesses closed because of the pandemic in March, Vanatter met with all of his employees to let them know he was only going to be able to pay them minimum wage.
"We did that for two weeks, but that was not sustainable," he said. "So we had to completely furlough our workers."
With recent help from a Paycheck Protection Program loan, Vanatter said he was able to hire back every employee. But some of his workers are receiving better pay from their unemployment benefits, so it doesn’t make sense for them to return to work, he said.
"Some guys not on unemployment did come back," he said. "We’ve got about half of our staff back" at the two restaurants.
As of mid-May, Props Brewery and Taproom still didn’t have the green light from the state to reopen.
Vanatter said persistence and being flexible has been the key to keeping the businesses going. Early on during the pandemic, "We started making hand sanitizer instead of making beer," he said. "We started to-go service, started delivering beer and had a limited takeout menu. When there was no toilet paper in the stores, we started selling ours. We’ve been flexible enough to continue to make enough dollars to stay open."
Ted Corcoran, president/CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, said restaurants, bars and vacation rental companies are among the businesses that have suffered the most obvious losses.
"Never in the world history have we ever had this happen — sometimes a lodging facility or similar business near the beach would be closed for some time after a hurricane — but never everything/everywhere," he said.
As of mid-May, he had not heard of any local businesses that are not reopening or not planning to reopen.