By Sylvina Poole
Post Coronavirus (Covid-19) recovery efforts are underway for many small, independent businesses around the country and right here in the city.
The ease of restrictions across the state for both in and outdoor gatherings, mask-wearing, more people getting vaccinated and less and less COVID cases, ensures a return to pre-pandemic normalcy or close to it look promising.
When the pandemic first ripped through the city, restaurants, retail companies and other establishments took a major economic toll faced with closures and shut-downs, staff layoffs, and governmental restrictions on social distancing and other mandated safety measures. At that time, it seemed like the beginning of the end.
Now that restrictions have slowly loosed up, the recovery process is on a fast-track for area businesses even in these uncertain times. Overall, businesses are optimistic and are ready to bounce back.
One company, Dudley Optical Inc. on 1st street in the historic Jackson Ward community is a long-time staple downtown. The company boasts 36 years in business.
This is how owner Warris Dudley remembers the early days. “I moved to Richmond, VA. in June 1972 and started working for Galeski Optical Co. After 11 plus years with Galeski Optical, I opened an optical department with Dr. Lindley T. Smith for 2 years. We could not expand the optical department due to our different professional organizations ethics rules and regulations, so we closed the optical department. I then opened Dudley Optical Inc. in November 1985 until present.”
Dudley Optical made it through the Covid 19 lockdown with a whole lot of prayers and faith, stated Dudley.
“We managed to survive the lockdown due to lots of prayers, and faith that God would carry us through the tough times and the due diligence along with preparing for those rainy days that are to be expected. I also believe it is because of our philosophy of always treating all customers who visit our office fair and honest and providing excellent, professional, and personal customer service and quality products. This alone has proven to me, to be a major factor in surviving in any business.”
Dudley Optical has a clear-cut vision for the future during pandemic recovery.
“I plan to stick to my philosophy and be ready and open to make adjustments whenever and as they arise. We are continuing to follow the CDC guidelines as close as possible and trying to assure that our customers know that we are doing our best to keep them safe as well as ourselves. We have continued to take a lot of the vision insurance plans that helps to bring in customers and that has been consistent. Our business is a bit more diversified than a lot of optical companies due to the fact that we provide industrial safety eyewear to different industries and companies because they require their employees to wear prescription safety glasses. This has been another blessing. One thing is for sure and that is most people need to have good vision whether for work, driving, reading, and doing general daily tasks, etc. Eyeglasses and contact lens will probably be around for a long time yet,” he said.
As a Black owned business, Dudley explains how the environment’s been during these uncertain times.
“Initially when the pandemic really hit, we were told by the city that we had to shut our doors like many other companies. We were closed for 2 weeks, but we made the necessary adjustments and slowly re-opened. It was a real shock, but we’ve always known that if you want to stay in business you have to prepare for the bad times as well as the good.”
Warris D. Dudley, Senior is president and Warris Dudley is owner at Dudley Optical Company, Inc.
What’s more, the number of small businesses decreased by 3.3 million or 22 percent over a two-month period nationally as a result from the pandemic, cites the national Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). This decrease in business owners was experienced across industries where African American companies were hit especially hard at 41 percent, Latina business 32 percent, Asian business owners fell 26 percent.
The motivation to move forward in the business with so many other companies closing down, he said, “The motivation for me to move forward in business is because I enjoy what I do! This year will be 51 years that I’ve been in the optical business. I haven’t gotten rich by no means, but the business has been good to me and my family.”