Sarah Taylor, one of the owners of All The Rage Vintage in Annapolis which opened in November, said she has some concerns with the recent rise of COVID-19 cases and how it might affect business in the new year.
Located at 208 West St., the business is in the Arts District of downtown that garners a lot of foot traffic. Taylor said the business closed out the year amazingly due to word-of-mouth and promotional deals.
For 2022, Taylor plans to offer more clothing options, art exhibits, fashion collectors and music events. She said she wants the store to be an experience and not just a place to shop.
“Business has slowed down to start the new year with COVID cases and the winter storms,” Taylor said. “I have some concerns with business in general with inflation, gas prices and overall I think it will be a struggle to get people in to spend money, but I don’t think it’s impossible.”
In 2021, the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. identified 112 new businesses (or existing businesses with an additional location), 34 expanding businesses (added space and/or relocated) and four under new ownership, totaling 150 new or changing businesses in the county. September to October saw 35 businesses come to the county, which was the most of any month in 2021.
“The county’s economy for 2021 can be summarized as ‘resilient.’ Despite the number of businesses we lost, others continue to open and expand,” said Ben Birge, president and CEO of AAEDC. “The fast infusions of stimulus grants across broad sectors of the business community that were common in 2020 and early 2021 were replaced by more focused funding and program support through the rest of 2021. Businesses reexamined how they interact with customers and delivered their products and services.”
Maxed Out Fitness in Annapolis, a personal trainer gym owned by Ashley Hesgard and Joe Calo, opened in February 2021. They didn’t want to be like the big-box gyms that have hundreds of members in the gym at once but more of a one-on-one, personalized experience for their members. Calo also realized while opening during the pandemic, it will be safer to have fewer people in the gym and easier to social distance.
He said over the past year since opening, dealing with changing COVID-19 protocols has been the biggest challenge.
“Five hundred of us can walk in a Target, but 10 of us can’t walk into the gym without a mask. The inconsistency in policies has been affecting small businesses the most,” Calo added.
Since opening, Hesgard said memberships have been consistent the whole year. She and Calo said they aren’t concerned with the rise of COVID-19 cases, only if there is another complete business shutdown.
For the new year, they want to hire more trainers and open a wellness studio.
Unemployment and businesses
Anne Arundel County’s unemployment rate in October 2020 was 6.2%, which dropped to 4.3% in October 2021, according to the most recent AAEDC data. The total number of people unemployed in the county in October 2021 was 13,156.
Maryland’s unemployment rate was 5.6% in October 2021, which was a total of 175,761 people, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Preliminary numbers for November 2021 from the bureau show Maryland’s unemployment rate shrinking to 5.4%.
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Over the past decade, Anne Arundel County’s average annual unemployment rate has been lower than both the state and national averages, according to Jonathan Boniface, research manager at AAEDC.
Comparing the total quarterly average employment in the second quarter of 2021 to 2020, there was an increase of 21,243 employed, AAEDC data shows. The industries that increased the most were trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. Leisure and hospitality increased employment by more than 10,000 people in 2021, with 29,133 from 18,620 in 2020. The increase in 2021 is still less than what employment was in 2019 when leisure and hospitality had a second-quarter average of 36,220 employees.
“Anne Arundel County saw employment growth in the leisure and hospitality sector in the second quarter of 2021 as compared to the second quarter of 2020 in large part due to gains in the restaurant and hotel industries, which were fully open while continuing to recover from the COVID pandemic,” Boniface said. “When comparing the second quarter of 2021 to the second quarter of 2019, the effects of the pandemic on this sector show they still have a long way to go toward fully recovering.”
Tourism dollars in the county rose by 54% in the third quarter of 2021 compared with 2020, from $2,931,434 to $4,534,754, according to the Anne Arundel County Finance Office. The total number of passengers at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, one of the county’s biggest employers, in the third quarter was 5,595,610 compared with just 2,656,935 in 2020, a 110.6% percent change.
At AAEDC, Birge said they are continuously looking at the business landscape and seeing how to customize programs and financing to meet these new challenges. He wants the business community to understand their services and how they can help more than ever before.
“This latest wave of the pandemic is impacting businesses. AAEDC continues to take seriously our role as a conduit of information between the county and the business community. We make sure that businesses understand the latest health and regulatory policy changes at the county level and, vice versa, that we share their concerns with county leaders,” Birge said.
“For example, we recently partnered with the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp. to conduct a survey to better understand the workforce recruiting challenges that many businesses are facing. Our team remains committed to supporting businesses as they navigate this challenging time and a potentially uneven economic recovery going forward.”