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New small businesses crop up in York County in wake of pandemic

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Dr. Leslie O'Dell, clinical director of Medical Optometry America, poses with an Oculus Keratograph at the recently-opened Shrewsbury office Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. The device performs corneal topography and dry eye analysis. Bill Kalina photo

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainty and instability for many York County residents, others have used it to take a leap and launch a small business.

New businesses in varying industries have cropped up in York County since the pandemic began in March.

In York City alone, 20 new businesses set up shops since the start of the pandemic, according to Kevin Schreiber, the president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance. 

"There's a historic trend of businesses opening in the wake of recessions," Schreiber said. "Opening a small business always has a plethora of challenges with it, but entrepreneurs are risk takers willing to take that step forward."

There isn't one single industry that has succeeded more in the pandemic above another, but Schreiber said more health care, food services and technology businesses have launched as a result of COVID-19.

He added that the influx of new businesses in times of crisis often result from a gap in that particular market. 

That was just the case for Dr. Leslie O'Dell, who launched Medical Optometry America in Shrewsbury Township. 

Dr. Leslie O'Dell, clinical director of Medical Optometry America, left, demonstrates a temperature scanner with her colleague Dr. Melissa DeBello at the recently-opened Shrewsbury office Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. The device is used to screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms. Bill Kalina photo

"In eye care, it's become a perfect storm for opening this practice," O'Dell said. "With the shutdowns in spring, ophthalmology and optometry was one of the hardest hit professions. In this area, new patients are struggling to get in."

The repercussions of Gov. Tom Wolf's mandatory lockdown in March only provided O'Dell and her team with more time to prepare — and adjust accordingly to new practices shaped by COVID-19. 

"We could re-create our workspace so that we didn't have to fit a circle into a square — which is what a lot of practices had to do when they opened back up," O'Dell added. 

For example, digital thermometers and computerized systems greeted patients upon entry, eliminating the need for unnecessary human contact. 

One of the unintended and unprecedented outcomes of COVID-19 on small businesses, Schreiber said, would be how owners prepare for future health crises.

"I think there's going to be this thought process of how we do things differently," Schreiber said. 

Through the York County Economic Alliance, however, Schreiber and his team have helped small businesses obtain pandemic resources and financial compensation, he said.

One such means of aid came in the form of the Bloom Startup Grant Pitch, which provided funding of up to $2,500 to newly developed York County businesses.

Izzy's Cupcakes was one of eight small companies that received a grant from the York County Economic Alliance in December. 

"It was a blessing," owner Izzy Espinal said, adding that she will use the grant money to build a new website for her small business. 

Izzy's Cupcakes, which launched in July, is currently operating as a partnership out of Prince Street Cafe, located at 2 W. Market St. 

In addition to Prince Street Cafe selling Espinal's cupcakes, she takes catering orders,  too.

Though opening in the middle of a pandemic provided obstacles for Espinal, she said it was the perfect time for her to get started with her small business.

Some of the more challenging aspects, however, have been the lack of in-person communication with clients and a shortage of baking supplies brought on by the increase of people turning to baking as a hobby during the pandemic. 

In addition to designing a website, Espinal is working toward having her own storefront. The boost from the York County Economic Alliance will help "tremendously" with those goals, she said. 

Though Espinal is a new business owner still learning the basics, she said her experience thus far has been rewarding.

"You have to deal with what's given to you," Espinal said. "As long as you have the right mind and you're passionate about something, you're gonna get there." 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.