Social distancing and work life changes brought on by COVID-19 have affected service sector businesses in different ways. For the Daniel Island Ferry, distancing guidelines have forced reduced capacity on boat trips, and employees now working from home have quelled demand for the ferry’s commuter service that was supposed to begin last May.
“From where we were last year, we are off by 20% to 25% because of reduced (passenger) numbers, but there’s also where we would have been with commuter service and expanded evening service,” said co-owner Colby Hollifield.
Blackbaud and Benefitfocus were the two main employers driving the demand for commuter service from downtown Charleston to Daniel Island, but most of those employees are now working remotely. The ferry was planning three morning and three evening roundtrips Monday through Friday, and had sold over 100 commuter passes that were refunded.
At the beginning of the shutdown, the ferry stopped operating for two months, but once they reopened, business has been steady with some trips near capacity or selling out. Hollifield said the new Daniel Island waterfront, marina and restaurants will bring increased demand for ferry operations. Next year, they plan to begin weekday commuter service and run a variety of trips seven days a week.
“We are very positive for the future,” said Hollifield. “This year it’s just one thing after another, but we’re focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Gyms and fitness centers are among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, but at Gymnastics Academy of Charleston (GAC) off Clements Ferry Road, co-owner Rebecca Parrish says business is improving, although they are only about 75 percent of where they should be.
“We’re not where we would be pre-COVID, but we’re getting there and it’s getting better every day,” said Parrish, who credits the academy’s resilience to the support of their students’ parents along with GAC’s implementation of new programs that help the community. GAC has been meticulous in following sanitation guidelines and at the beginning of May the state gave them essential business status that allowed them to reopen because they provide camps, virtual learning days, and after school programs for children.
Parrish said the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games has also affected their numbers because gymnastics facilities usually get a bump in business following an Olympic year.
“Not only were we hit with COVID, but we didn’t get the benefit of the Olympics,” said Parrish. “We’re down about 25% from a year ago.”
Nathan Delpino, owner of Delpino Custom Homes, said his company is fortunate that Charleston has been a destination for relocation, recreation and retirement for many years.
“From top to bottom we offer something for almost anybody and I think that is what’s really unique and what has helped the building industry in the Charleston area in 2020,” he said.
Delpino’s workload has increased over 25 percent from last year due to the demand for home improvements and new home construction.
“Renovations and additions have increased significantly,” said Delpino. “And from a building standpoint…the resale market has been so tight people are turning to building (new homes) more than they have in the past.”
Delpino said Charleston, and Daniel Island in particular, is attracting people from cities and occupations that are very tech heavy and the COVID pandemic has given them the green light to work remotely. He said the amount of people relocating to the area and the demand for housing on the higher end is greater than he’s ever seen.
“I think the trends that were already there became magnified overnight,” said Delpino. “It’s a testament to what Charleston really is; one of the best places to live, raise a family and be involved with business and the community.”