ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Pete leaders unveiled a first look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting small businesses and jobs in St. Petersburg Wednesday during a State of St. Pete Economy virtual presentation.
Despite the pandemic's strain, St. Pete leaders say most businesses are finding ways to stay resilient.
Vivia Grier, a local St. Pete artist who goes by Vivia Barron Folk Art, is in that boat. She says COVID-19 has put her passion and career in a tough spot.
"It was just scary. Terrifying, and it felt like what now? All your hopes and dreams were gone. It was so scary," she explained, referring back to the beginning of the pandemic.
Grier says she went from her best year on the books in 2019 to being able to count on one hand how many paintings she sold in 2020.
"It was like boom, everything stopped," she elaborated.
Just as Ronsha Brown and Janita Ward were starting up their Nurse Practitioners of Florida practice, the pandemic changed everything.
"It's made it a little challenging because it's slowed the business from the aspect of people coming and us doing physical examinations. We've had to change over to telehealth and put in new safety protocols for people coming into the office," Brown added.
While Brown, Ward and Grier say their businesses are surviving, St. Pete estimates nearly 500 businesses in the city were forced closed by the pandemic. Around 4,200 jobs have been lost in the city during the time since COVID-19 started impacting us in 2020. That's about a 3.5% decrease, according to a city presentation made Wednesday. However, when you compare it to statewide figures, where there has been a 16% loss in jobs, city leaders say the impact is minimal.
The city of St. Petersburg and the St. Pete Greenhouse have now helped more than 2,300 businesses and individuals by doling out 6.2 million dollars as part of the city's Fighting Chance Fund.
Grier says for her, that was a lifeline.
"It was like don't give up. It's tough, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel," she added.
St. Petersburg leaders say while the pandemic has been tough, poverty in the city is at its lowest rate in years, and the number of residents with a college degree is growing. They say this paints a bright future once the pandemic is behind us.
"Even with COVID going on right now, I sit here today and am incredibly optimistic about St. Petersburg, the economic vitality of St. Petersburg and the people of St. Petersburg," Mayor Rick Kriseman said.