Starkville businesses survive and support Starkville in unprecedented year

Customers follow COVID-19 guidelines at Starkvegas Snowballs on Dr Martin Luther King Jr Drive. Many businesses that struggled in the spring have found recent success with the students returning.

COVID-19 has brought many changes to the city of Starkville, including the way in which local small businesses operate. Some businesses have flourished during the onset of COVID-19, while others have seen a decline in their operations and are now functioning on a limited capacity.

Businesses such as Starkville restaurant Moe's Original BBQ, which sells barbecue meals and appetizers in the Cotton District, have seen a decrease in their sales revenue. Whit Stuckey, the co-owner at Moe's Original BBQ, said many people are scared to eat out in restaurants, which has created an increase in curbside pickup and takeout options.

According to Stuckey, Moe's has decided to temporarily cancel late night bar business due to the governor's mandate on bar hours and capacity. The bar was a strong revenue stream for Moe's before COVID-19 changed their business practices.

Although Stuckey commented on the struggle of decreased revenue in the spring, with the college population returning to campus, business is now at a 40% revenue level compared to last year. Stuckey also mentioned how curbside, carry-out and food delivery apps such as Door Dash and Lazy Guys have helped boost business and provide a variety of options for customers to order from Moe's.

Starkvegas Snowballs, a snow cone business with locations in the Cotton District and on Dr Martin Luther King Jr Drive, has also felt the effects of COVID-19. Doug Cater, the co-owner of the snow cone business, has attested to how the pandemic affected his business.

For health precautions, Starkvegas Snowballs was closed from March 16 through April 22, a time of the year which is usually their peak season, Cater said.

When the Starkvegas Snowballs location on Dr Martin Luther King Jr Drive was open, only a to-go window was used for business. Contactless interaction was used, and the business resorted to using only cards instead of cash.

Starkvegas Snowballs's employees were also negatively impacted as they were not able to work during the time the business was closed.

"We wanted to be health conscious more than anything about not only the public but also our employees, making sure that they were safe and in a safe environment to do business," Cater said.

According to co-owners Doug and Cori Cater, as the university opened up and students began to return, catering orders have increased. Various departments at the university have requested catering from Starkvegas Snowballs, which in turn has boosted sales.   

The Pop Porium, a local Starkville business that sells a variety of gourmet popcorn in the Cotton District, initially observed a decline in customers after COVID-19 cases grew in Starkville. Since the return of university students and the lessening of restrictions, their sales have started to increase. 

Rosa Dalomba, the owner of The Pop Porium, credits the start of the business's revenue decline to when Mississippi State University baseball games were canceled as a result of the university closing during the onset of COVID-19. MSU baseball games, according to Dalomba, are a major factor in getting MSU fans to buy popcorn from the business's vendors.

"The fact that we weren't able to vendor at that game and they were not having fans, that definitely affected us. Also, the stay-at-home order affected us because folks were not able to come out," Dalomba said.

As a result, The Pop Porium introduced innovative business ideas since the uptick of COVID-19 cases in March, such as creating and shipping Easter baskets with The Pop Porium's products inside, revamping their online orders to make online purchases easier, putting chairs and tables outside as a seating area, adding a walk-up door service and selling milkshakes to customers.

With the help of the Starkville community, The Pop Porium was able to continue with its business and even make a difference in the community.

During the pandemic, a customer sent Dalomba an envelope with $350 inside, with the message, "We hope you make it through this, and we hope to see you on the other side." Dalomba called the customer and asked if they had ordered a product she had missed.

According to Dalomba, the Pop Porium was giving donations at the time to the police and fire department for COVID-19 relief. Dalomba and the individual on the phone came to the agreement to use the money gifted to her to buy gourmet popcorn for the hospital.

Throughout the layoffs and loss of sales The Pop Porium experienced, Dalomba said she credits the Starkville community for lending a hand during a difficult time.

Moe's Original BBQ also gave back to the Starkville community through their Feed-a-First-Responder Deal during April and May. For every 20 plates purchased, employees at Moe's would drop off meals for the local hospital, fire department or police department. According to Stuckey, Moe's also offered a $5 meal during the month of March to anyone recently unemployed due to the pandemic.

Stuckey believes many small businesses can be helped simply by residents making a choice to go to their local restaurant.

"We definitely try to be there and help out with the community. Now it's a tough time for small businesses, restaurants in particular," Stuckey said. "Instead of going to a big chain and jumping in line there, if you walk a block down the street to get to us, you're definitely helping out somebody."

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