KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During the pandemic, supporting small businesses has become more important than ever to customers who desperately want to see their favorite mom and pop shops stay alive.
This week is Waldo Week, one example of the many ways local business districts are joining forces to survive.
The new walk-up window slides open at McLain’s Bakery on Gregory Boulevard in Waldo. A cheery employee greets customers who would rather order from outside.
“Good Morning, Welcome to McLain’s.”
The bakery is one of the oldest businesses in Waldo, celebrating more than 75 years of crafting some of the city’s best cakes, pies and pastries. It survived the aftermath of World War II, Vietnam and many seasons of economic highs and lows. But McLain’s has never had to change so much so quickly as they did in 2020.
“Literally overnight we had to change,” said Mollie Lothman, who owns the store.
To long-time customers, the most visible difference may be the walk-up window, but behind the scenes, the pivot has been constant and sometimes downright dizzying.
“I feel like sometimes it’s been every week. From no inside dining, to to-go only, to the walk-up window, to inside dining, to now it’s the holidays and there’s a limited number of customers you can have inside,” Lothman said.
But like many businesses in Waldo, McClain’s made a concerted, laser-focused effort to survive. No matter what.
There are 600 businesses in Waldo. Most of them small and locally owned. Most were forced to close for several months last spring. With a few exceptions, most are miraculously still standing.
From Emilie’s Tea Room to Centered Spirit to Hagoyah Hair Studio and Yoga Den, up and down the streets of Waldo, you could almost see the business models shift. They altered hours of operation, offered curbside pickup and home delivery. Most of all, businesses built better websites and boosted their online presence.
Pedego Electric Bikes opened last year, just days before COVID-19 closures were enforced. Luckily, because the business included bike repairs, Pedego was allowed to stay open. And fortuitously, when gyms closed, local customers came flying in, and bike sales and repairs soared.
Pedego owner Dan Cain credits the community, the Waldo Business District and a little luck.
“I’ve been here 29 years in the Brookside and Waldo area. It’s my home, it’s church, it’s community, it’s the great shops and stores and the people who live here and really make it up,” Cain said.
“It almost makes me emotional talking about the community in Waldo because they have really stuck with us,” Lothman said.
Business have learned that survival skills include banning together, becoming highly flexible and breathing new life into their formerly neglected websites and social media platforms.
Often, owners will say the pandemic actually made them better, and even when it passes, some changes will stick and they may never go back to business as usual.
Waldo Week continues through Feb. 25 with many businesses offering customers discounts, specials and freebies.