STURGIS, S.D. — South Dakota stayed open for business throughout the pandemic. That helped some Sturgis businesses, but not as much as you might expect.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, South Dakota has been a popular destination because it remained open, and while the hope was to help the economy, several local businesses in Sturgis have still struggled to stay afloat. William Redman and Deborah Paroli co-own a consignment shop, New to You, on Main Street, and spoke about the struggles they saw as a result of COVID.
“March and April, we were strongly suggested to close our doors because of the COVID, and that really hurt us, those two months we were closed,” said Redman.
As a result of low traffic and sales, they were forced to relocate across the street from Uncle Louie, where they say the rent has been more affordable and business has been marginally better. Despite minor improvements, they are still unsure if they will survive the year. Like New to You, antique shop Unique to Antique are both open year round and have a large and diverse collection for everyone. While they want to support and help the community, it just hasn’t been easy. Much of the struggle can be attributed to lack of support from Sturgis locals.
“I do have wonderful customers, a lot of return customers,” said Unique to Antique owner Jessica Kerlin. “At the same time, I hear the chit chat of “oh, we wish there was stuff open on Main Street”, because our business do sit empty, but it takes people shopping here to keep them open.”
Kerlin has a passion for antiques as she was raised in the business, and is actually the only antique dealer on Main Street.
Kerlin said, “My mother was an antique dealer, so was my father. I grew up in a salvage yard. And mom was a teacher and antique dealer during the summers, so we would go do shows all over the United States. If I haven’t seen it, I have to have it.”
Shop owners are grateful for those supportive locals, but the majority of their business still comes from out-of-state visitors, and the Rally only allows them to break even most years. They also say it is not rare to find Sturgis residents who still have no idea there are businesses open year round in town.
“I’ve been here 10 years, I‘ve starved to death the majority of the time until summer,” said Kerlin. “But I made a decision to stay open year round. I thought that Sturgis needed something like my store here.”
“As far as locals, there’s only maybe 25 percent that actually come in and help us,” said Paroli. “The rest have been tourists, and thank God for them. Without our locals supporting us, we won’t be here. We’re just hanging by a thread.”
Staying open year round has always been a struggle for businesses on Main Street, but COVID-19 has only made it harder, forcing some shop owners to even take up side gigs to make ends meet.
“We’re doing Facebook Marketplace, that has helped tremendously,” said Paroli. “Without that, I don’t think we would be open, and we are using our own money to keep afloat.”
“I had to, I actually took a job with the federal government as a Census Bureau Enumerator to pick up the additional income that we needed for our household,” said Redman.
“I’ve had to drive a taxi, paint on the side, pretty much anything to just make ends meet,” said Kerlin.
Despite the struggle, shops are still happy to be open and provide much needed services to the community. They just hope the community will remember to be supportive, as successful small businesses can equal a successful community.