WILTON —Three new business owners along Route 2 in Wilton are surviving the pandemic economy and remaining optimistic about the coming summer months.  

Peak Nutrition owner Melissa Malone made the final decision in November to open her Herbalife tea and shake cafe.

“I always wanted to own something, and I wanted to get health into the community,” Melissa Malone said while sitting at her newly constructed take out window. 

Peak Nutrition owner Melissa Malone has been a longtime Herbalife consumer. She wanted to bring the powder supplement products to the Wilton area to offer a healthy meal replacement product line. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

By February 1, Peak Nutrition opened its doors for customers to grab a protein-loaded shake on their way to work or to lounge in the cafe while sipping on an energy-boosting tea. 

“We talked about it and thought it was the right time,” Melissa Malone’s wife, Heather Malone, said with a grin.  

Since Peak Nutrition offers nutritious, meal replacement shakes the business was deemed essential and permitted to remain open through quarantine. However, Melissa Malone chose to shut down for two weeks so that she could assess the situation. She wanted to ensure that she could keep both her customers and her six-year-old son safe. 

“When it first started, we were petrified,” Heather Malone said while her son played in what used to be the cafe’s seating area. “As things have progressed, we’ve felt a little better, but it’s always in the back of your mind, ‘how can I prevent my family from being susceptible?’”

Melissa Malone also asked her regulars if they would be comfortable coming to the cafe for their drinks during the pandemic. Despite customer reassurance, the first week of the business reopening was slow and sales were down by at least 75%. 

Fearful from the unpredictable future, Melissa Malone decided not to apply for any federal pandemic-related assistance. Instead, she received support from her landlord who offered her rent relief and built a take out window so that Peak Nutrition could offer no contact service. 

“I feel that if I can’t do this, then I need to close it right now. Fortunately we’ve been able to continue working,” Melissa Malone said. “I didn’t want to be in a hole because of this. I don’t know what it’s going to be like after the pandemic. Are they going to come, are they not?”

There has been a consistent increase in sales and new customers since Peak Nutrition’s reopening. Melissa Malone attributes this to people acclimating to curbside services and coming out of the pandemic’s initial shock period.

“Since I put the window in a few weeks back, that has really brought the business. So now I would say we’re 25% down (from) where we were before the pandemic,” Melissa Malone said.

The take out window that Melissa Malone’s landlord installed has made her customers feel at ease when ordering and picking up drinks. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

Many of Peak Nutrition’s customers are essential workers such as nurses who commute to Franklin Memorial Hospital. They call in bulk drink orders on their way to work which fuels them through their long shifts. 

Vicky Kinsey who took over The Village Flea in December, relies more on a seasonal crowd than a local, commuting customer base for her antique store. Kinsey anticipates the additional restrictions placed on out-of-staters traveling to Maine will affect summer sales that typically carry the business through the winter months.  

“This last month was our best month so far, but it was less than, looking back at their [previous owners] history, less than what their May typically is because they usually start getting the tourists, and that didn’t happen this year,” Kinsey said while standing in front of a display case of vintage jewelry. “And then of course, we were closed for April.” 

The state-mandated, month-long closure not only affected Kinsey, but also her four vendors who rent retail space in the building as well as numerous consignment sellers. Despite only qualifying for a $1,000 federal disaster relief loan, Kinsey still offered rent relief to her vendors.

“What I found frustrating is they say it’s [disaster relief loans] for your small businesses, yet if you don’t have employees, it doesn’t help you one iota,” Kinsey said.

The Village Flea runs on a family workforce which up until the pandemic, included Kinsey’s 80-year-old mother.

“Until the scare is gone, I don’t want her in here,” Kinsey said.

For those that are not in a high-risk group, Kinsey feels as though The Village Flea offers a very safe environment. There are rarely more than ten people in the store, and she’s noticed that customers have been very conscientious while shopping. 

“They don’t handle as much, they’ve been respectful in that manner,” Kinsey said. “Most of them were very thankful when I opened up because it gave them something to do.”

Vicky Kinsey’s antique store on Route 2 in Wilton, The Village Flea, also provides four vendors and numerous consignment sellers with retail space. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

Edwin and Amanda Hastings operate A&E trading, a pawn shop and retail store in Augusta that they are relocating to Wilton. Hastings expressed a similar sentiment as Kinsey about the safe shopping environment that small, local businesses offer. 

“That’s one of the good things about these shops, we’re not like Walmart, we’re not going to get 100 people at a time,” Hastings said in the doorway of his new building. 

Nonetheless, Hasting’s pawn shop was closed for a month as well, which was time he had been counting on to sell merchandise to buffer moving funds and to cover rent.

“I didn’t really have extra money coming in because the way pawns run is you pawn $1,000 worth of stuff this month, and then your rent is paid next month,” Hastings said. “It’s a vicious circle, it just keeps going. And then when you cut me off for a month, I have nothing that’s built up here for the next month. So, now we’re working twice as hard for twice as less.”

Edwin and Amanda Hastings are still in the process of renovating their new building on Route 2 in Wilton. They will open July 1, and offer a variety of merchandise ranging from kids toys to new and vintage electronics.  Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

Edwin and Amanda Hastings work second jobs at big box stores, Sam’s Club and Walmart, that were deemed essential and remained open during quarantine. The Hastings have been picking up as many overtime hours as possible to make up for the forced closure of their business and to cover renovations on their new building in Wilton. 

The Hastings found themselves in the same loophole of federal aid requirements for small businesses as Kinsey.

“We didn’t qualify for anything because I’m the only employee, and I’m married to the girl that owns it,” Hastings said.

Despite the financial hardships and the pandemic, A&E is on track for its July 1 opening. Hastings was eager to talk about his merchandise which will include vintage video game consoles, new electronics, jewelry, kids’ toys and new and used clothing. He talked about the future with ease as he revealed a cooking hood ventilation system in the building that is making him dream about adding a bar and grill to his operation.

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