Katy-area business owners adapt to COVID-19

Image description
Earlier this year, Meredith Lanning, owner of Pinot’s Palette in Katy, told Community Impact Newspaper she was taking measures to be extra sanitary and maintain social distancing rules in her classes at the beginning of quarantine; she even suspended in-studio classes for a while.

Eight months and several regulations later, Lanning said it has been a challenging year.

“The last eight months have been a roller coaster,” Lanning said. “I’m a small-business owner who is supposed to promote social gatherings to stay open in the middle of a pandemic. ... How do you do that?”

While the effect of the coronavirus on cities’ sales tax revenue has varied throughout the Houston region—with Katy seeing lower revenue compared to 2019—small businesses in the community have felt the financial strain of the pandemic for the past seven months.

“Local government is only as strong as the local economy,” said James Thurmond, a former city manager and current graduate professor in public administration at the University of Houston. “[If] they don’t have money coming in, they can’t provide some of the basic services they need to provide.”


Although the pandemic has led to a drop in sales tax collections in Katy, Director of Finance Andrew Vasquez said grocery stores, businesses that were able to stay open due to carry-out orders, and Buc-ee’s helped carry the city when Katy Mills mall was shut down.

“We were actually surprised the sales tax revenue did as well as it did,” he said. “We get the benefit of people traveling through Katy and spending money at Buc-ee’s.”

Reinventing the wheel

Lanning, like other business owners around the world, was forced to create a new business model overnight.

With approval from Fort Bend County, Lanning was able to offer curbside pickup for painting kits, which slightly increased spending because materials that were typically reused were now being sold.

However, that was not sustainable, and business slowed again once the mask orders went into place the week of July 4. “Nobody was coming,” Lanning said. “I couldn’t get an adult in here to drink and paint if it saved my life. I had to shut it down.”

Ida Franklin, the owner of Venus Construction in Katy, said she lost two employees in the initial stages of the pandemic and started having supply chain issues.

“We have a horrible time right now getting appliances,” Franklin said. “Anything made in China or anywhere overseas is taking way longer to get here. Things that normally take a couple of weeks to arrive are taking months.”

Franklin said Venus Construction has struggled a little in getting parts to complete a job due to factories closing overseas in March and April, but manufacturing is picking back up.

“The things that we would be selling now are things that they would be manufacturing back in March and April,” Franklin said. “They just started reopening, so now they are having to play catch up, but it’s going to take months.”

Venus Construction opened in 2006 and specializes in high-end kitchen and bath remodels as well as commercial remodeling and build-out.

“I talked to my employees at length about not putting themselves at risk unnecessarily, being careful and wearing masks,” Franklin said. “Especially after we went through [COVID-19] at my house, it was terrible. I wouldn’t want to wish that on anybody. Having to quarantine and separate yourself from each other in the house, and if people have kids, I can’t even imagine telling a kid they can’t hug their mother.”

The most severe decreases in sales tax revenue may not have happened yet, and local governments need to brace for those, Thurmond said.

The COVID-19 recession, which is considered to have started both domestically and globally in late February, is unlike any other economic downturn in recent history, Thurmond said: It could potentially be much longer-lasting than a traditional recession.

“We haven’t hit the low point yet,” he said, adding that local governments must spend money and create budgets wisely. “I would not be very positive right now. ... I would be cutting back.”

Lanning reached out to Fort Bend County for a grant to help stay open during the lockdown, but Pinot’s Palette’s locations in Cypress, Sugar Land and Memorial City have all closed since the pandemic hit the Greater Houston area.

“Ask if you are struggling,” Lanning said. “It is just awesome how they help if we need it. I’m hoping it’s going to be a stellar holiday season—maybe just without the crowds.”

A silver lining

Although the restaurant and entertainment industries have suffered during the pandemic, other industries have thrived.

Venus Construction is booked until mid-December.

“We’re very fortunate to have a good business base,” Franklin said. “We’re just trying to keep up with the business we have. In our construction and remodeling industry, it’s crazy busy right now, so there’s not that much unemployment. I know there are lots of people unemployed and lots of people are struggling, but we’re not struggling.”

The YaYa Club Clothing Co. located at 123 FM 1463, Katy, was another business that saw success since the pandemic, according to Lanning.

Although initially the owners were unsure on how they would continue, they quickly found a way to leverage the internet and social media to kick up sales.

“I always think God puts people in your life that you need to learn some stuff from, and during quarantine I was watching all their videos,” Lanning said. “They go on Facebook live because they are a boutique—people come in, people touch clothes, people try things on, and we were shut down.”

Livestreams included the owners presenting certain clothing items with descriptions and an assigned number to make it easy for customers to buy online, co-owner Robin Ebrecht said.

“We started making masks for companies, for individuals, and clear shields because teachers, administrators and hair stylists wanted to be able to talk and see their clients,” Robin said. “We just tried to adapt and change with the rules and the laws.”

The YaYa Club offers clothes, jewelry, a men’s section, and masks and hand sanitizer.

“I want to thank the community for supporting us and shopping local,” Ebrecht said. “It’s been really amazing. We were surprised that we didn’t fall that far behind last year’s sales, even through all of this.”

Ebrecht’s son, Tanner, owns DiamondFit Performance Katy. The athletic facility shut down in the early days of the pandemic, Tanner said.

The North Carolina-based business specializes in training youth and high school athletes with some adult training classes.

Although the gym has lost a bit of money this year, Tanner said the staff was prepared for it and looking ahead.

“I would imagine a similar story in most places,” Tanner said. “We were operating normally, ‘boom’ everything shut down, and we just had to adjust and overcome all the adversity. I hope we are on the back end of it. We’re pushing through. We are just trying to give our service and help everybody out.”
By Nola Valente
A native Texan, Nola serves as reporter for the Katy edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She studied print journalism at the University of Houston and French at the University of Paris-Sorbonne in France. Nola was previously a foreign correspondent in Jerusalem, Israel covering Middle East news through an internship with an American news outlet.


MOST RECENT

At a Jan. 15 emergency court hearing, officials came up with a plan to try to reduce the inmate population at the Harris County Jail that centers on hosting more bail reduction hearings. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
With open beds dwindling, officials look for ways to reduce Harris County jail population

The inmate population at the Harris County Jail is rising, and officials are looking for ways to quickly ease the pressure as concerns grow over the ability to quarantine and restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Bocca Italian Kitchen serves seasonal, Italian-inspired dishes, such as polenta and various pastas. (Courtesy Marco Torres)
Italian eateries open in Generation Park; Houston bike lane fines enforced and more local news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas promotes public services announcements to help raise awareness about human trafficking and how to get help. (Courtesy The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas)
New sheriff: Human trafficking is ‘another pandemic’ facing Fort Bend County

Combating human trafficking is a top priority for newly elected Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan.

Here are the latest coronavirus case count updates in Fort Bend County. (Community Impact staff)
Fort Bend County totals 2,886 new coronavirus cases Jan. 8-14; active cases increase by 1,000

Here are the latest coronavirus case count and hospitalization updates in Fort Bend County.

Officials expect demand for the vaccine will be huge once it opens to the general public. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Montgomery County plans vaccine distribution; FDA warns of false negatives and more top Houston-area news

Read the most popular stories from the past week from the Houston area.

The Katy ISD bond committee met Jan. 13. (Photo by Morgan Theophil)
Proposed Katy ISD bond would fund 5 new campuses, facility renovations

Deliberations have begun about a bond proposed by Katy ISD that is designed to address the rapid student growth occurring in the district.

Once the camera is installed at the park, the Katy Police Department will operate and monitor it. (Courtesy Pexels)
City of Katy Dog Park to install new security camera to reduce number of abandoned dogs

A new security camera will soon be installed at Katy’s dog park in an effort to reduce the number of dogs abandoned in the park.

Despite a global pandemic, Houston home sales broke records in 2020 and saw 10% more sales overall compared to 2019. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Report: Houston home sales surpassed 2019 volumes despite pandemic

2020 single-family home sales surpassed 2019’s volume by more than 10%.

La Cocina de Roberto launched its second eatery in The Woodlands area in January. (Courtesy La Cocina de Roberto)
La Cocina de Roberto restaurant opens in The Woodlands and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Greater Houston area.

From Jan. 19-29, Coalition for the Homeless and staff from The Way Home will conduct the 2021 Homeless Count & Survey, in which they will work to identify sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness across Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties. (Adobe Stock)
Coalition for the Homeless, The Way Home to conduct annual Greater Houston-area homeless count Jan. 19-29

The results of the 2021 homeless count and survey are expected to be released to the public this spring.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar shared a new revenue estimate for the 2022-23 biennium Jan. 11. (Courtesy Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts)
Comptroller projects drop in state revenue, potential for economic uptick for next biennium

Despite the slight reduction in expected revenue for the state's 2022-23 budget, recovery could be on the horizon.

This will be the 43rd annual event known as the nation’s original MLK Day parade sanctioned by Martin Luther King Sr. in 1978. (Courtesy Black Heritage Society)
Houston’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade goes virtual for 2021 event

This will be the 43rd annual event known as the nation’s original MLK Day parade sanctioned by Martin Luther King Sr. in 1978.