‘Just ride this thing on out’: Durham businesses adjust to COVID-19

From a past file photo: Samuel Jenkins hosts a visit from the staff of the Durham VOICE. (staff photo by Jock Lauterer)

With Durham County surpassing 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, everyone is feeling the presence of the coronavirus. From social distancing to increased health and sanitation practices, the virus has caused everyone to make major changes in their lives.

This includes Durham business owners. Those who’ve put blood, sweat and tears in to their businesses — now forced to make a major decision: stay open with adjusted services to support citizens, or close up shop completely to prevent further spread of the virus.

After North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued a stay-at-home order, effective March 30, nonessential businesses like Samuel and Sons Barber Shop in Durham had no choice but to close their doors.

Owner Samuel Jenkins was a few steps ahead of the order, closing his small Durham shop a week before the order was issued.

“I wasn’t really fond of spreading, or being a spot where it could be spread,” he said. “I had to take into consideration which is more important: financial stability or health.”

Prior to the shop’s closure, he was taking only a limited number of clients. He also allowed Durham Parks and Recreation to host livestream fitness courses in his facility.

Although gyms were closed, Jenkins said he wanted to encourage exercise and people’s mental motivation.

As a single dad of four children, the closure of his business has given him plenty of time to spend with his younger kids. He’s also used this time to do some spring-cleaning and pick up gardening as a hobby.

Jenkins said he’s trying to use the extra time wisely to better himself because — in addition to following the advisories — it’s all we can do.

“Durham will survive as long as the citizens understand that this is not a joke,” he said. “Separating ourselves, find out who you are, get in contact with your family — by phone — and just ride this thing on out and we’ll be fine.”

Jenkins has owned the barber shop for 20 years. Although this time of closure is unchartered territory for him, he doesn’t foresee any issues in reopening.

Once the stay-at-home order is lifted, Jenkins said Samuel and Sons Barber Shop will be open and ready for business. 

“Well, everybody’s going to need a haircut,” he said.

Durham’s Favorite Kitchens Are Still Kicking

Though grooming is deemed nonessential in the order, everyone still has to eat.

The staff members of Zweli’s assemble for a group portrait.

For that reason, restaurants remain open with delivery or carry-out options. Even with these options, some of Durham’s favorite locally owned restaurants, like Zweli’s Kitchen and JC’s Kitchen, have been reduced to limited hours.

Even in tough times, Zweli’s is finding innovative ways to serve customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Owner Leonardo Williams said Zweli’s is currently offering  customers a delivery option, where he delivers the food himself in an effort to continue to build community relationships.

“People love when you do good, and that’s what we’re all about,” he said. “We stood up for our community in the biggest time of need with McDougald Terrace. Now, when we’re potentially going to lose our business, people are stepping up and having our backs.”

Zweli’s is still providing meals for McDougald residents and families as they transition back into their homes.

Health and Safety, First

Like Zweli’s, JC’s Kitchen is working to ensure safe conditions. Current owner Phyllis Terry took over the family business in 2009 after her sister passed away the year before.

Terry said she’s seen slow days before during construction in downtown Durham. Now, she’s experiencing times where there are only one or two customers during the entire business day.

Although business is slow, Terry said her priority is for everyone to be safe.

“I think our obedience as a community will help that,” she said, “Then us as a whole trying to help one another — our neighbors — washing our hands and the social distancing, I think are important.”

Many owners whose businesses remain open are playing it by ear and continuing to practice social distancing and increased sanitation.

Social distancing is imperative, but community is needed now more than ever.  

“What’s going to get Durham through this is it’s culture,” Williams concluded. “It’s culture for caring for one another and the love for that culture.”