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Opening a new storefront or restaurant is never a simple endeavor, no matter how you spin it. But what happens when COVID-19 hits while you’re still in the planning stages, and it virtually shuts down life as you know it? We spoke to three local entrepreneurs about the trials and tribulations of opening a business during the pandemic, and why they were inspired to do it anyway.

SAGE Refill Market

1214 Wedgewood Ave., Nashville, TN 37212 • (615) 801-4565
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday

A labor of love that stemmed from years of recycling, composting, carrying reusable bags and championing a cleaner environment, Diana Duren and her family sought to open SAGE Refill Market — a shop that would help the community move toward a more eco-friendly lifestyle. “As a planet, we can’t ‘recycle’ our way out of this problem,” she says, also noting that shopping for more sustainable products can feel overwhelming and frustrating for consumers. Ultimately, that’s what compelled her to open their family-run refill shop in 12South.

Enter the pandemic, which immediately threw a wrench in the plan. Without the ability to get customers into the store to refill containers, the foundation of their business was on shaky ground. Not to mention, COVID caused a countrywide shortage of pumps, spray nozzles and other necessary containers, so they had to switch gears. “Opening a business is risky by itself, but opening during a pandemic felt downright crazy,” says Diana. With that said, many of their products are considered essential, so they were allowed to open while most stores around them were forced to remain closed. Canceling their opening day celebration and pivoting their product lineup, the Duren family refocused their opening inventory to fit current needs. Surprisingly, they ended up opening earlier than expected. “We had always anticipated a mid-May opening,” Diana explains, “but with the pandemic, we actually pushed ourselves to open a little sooner. By focusing first on curbside pickup and some local delivery, we were able to work on renovations inside of the store simultaneously and not worry if it was completely finished.”

Looking on the bright side, Diana admits the pandemic offered some unexpected flexibility and time to devote to her shop, SAGE Refill Market. “While this has been an incredibly stressful time for all of us, we are definitely grateful that it allowed each of us to use our talents and skills to get the store open,” she says. It was truly a family affair. Her husband Mark, a teacher, was able to work on renovations rather than hiring outside contractors, while their daughters assisted with researching and ordering inventory. Her youngest daughter is even working on a mural inside the store. Image: SAGE Refill Market

SAGE Refill officially opened on May 1, providing 12South with an eco-friendly refill market that specializes in low-waste, sustainably packaged home goods and personal items. It’s a convenient neighborhood resource for those who are trying to reduce their use of plastic. And though most stores around them were still closed at that point, making it more of a challenge to draw in the foot traffic they were relying on, Diana discovered the neighborhood was ready for a store like hers. “Everyone has been so supportive and excited to have this type of store on this side of town. We hope we can continue to grow, and ultimately increase the number of people choosing to replace single-use plastics.”

Diana and her family are working hard to serve their customers in the safest way possible, as Nashville moves through its reopening phases. They are currently full-service, meaning they sanitize and fill the containers people bring in from home. In the future, they will allow customers the option to do that themselves. In the meantime, the Durens are grateful for the chance to bring their refill service to Nashville. “We were so nervous about opening, and whether anyone would even know about us or want to venture out,” Diana says, “but our first few weeks were incredible.”

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The Golden Slipper

314 Madison St., Nashville, TN 37208 • (615) 988-0203
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Monday

A brand new Germantown boutique that officially opened last week, The Golden Slipper offers balloon installs, specialized gift boxes, florals and all sorts of fun trinkets for your home. Thoughtfully curated with eye-catching details, the shop feels like an extension of owner Abbey Moore’s home. It makes sense considering the boutique evolved from her blog “The Perfect Little Life,” on which she shares her passion for, as she puts it, “all things lifestyle, food, travel and everything in between.”

Inspired by her grandmother, who used to play the B3 organ while wearing gold slippers, the store’s motto is “Life is golden, and everything should be celebrated.” But life was far from golden when the pandemic led Abbey to question whether or not it was the right time to open a business, and that came on the heels of the shop suffering minor damage during the March tornado — a space she’d signed a lease on only the day before. “Nashville has been through a lot with the tornado alone,” she admits, “and then COVID happened. They’re wild times we are all living in, for sure. But nothing good ever comes easy, and we pushed through the fear.”

With plans to open in May, Abbey turned opening the shop into her grand “Pandemic Project,” and despite the many challenges she faced, she found there was also an unexpected perk. “I am so blessed because my husband and brother are my business partners,” she tells us. “Normally, they are busy working and traveling, and they were working from home this whole time. There’s no way we’d be opening now without their help with the build-out and design.” Though COVID put a damper on Abbey’s event-planning spirit — she’d originally planned to have a huge block party to celebrate — she opted for a “soft opening” instead, inviting smaller groups over several days. “We will for sure celebrate later when we are able to, and it will be a grand celebration!” she tells us confidently. “Even on the days where I kept telling myself, I should have invested in an RV or a farm, not a shop, I’ve also been encouraged and inspired by the community. So many people are sharing and telling me how excited they are, so that gives me hope.”

Owner Abbey Moore, who opened her business, The Golden Slipper boutique, during the pandemic.

When it comes to opening The Golden Slipper, the idea of honoring her grandmother’s memory, coupled with the fact that she’d already signed a lease, kept owner Abbey Moore’s eyes on the prize. She also credits her landlords with offering motivation. “I have amazing landlords. They are super supportive and love small businesses, so they’ve been so helpful to all of their tenants; they want them to succeed.” Image: The Golden Slipper

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Midnight Oil Pizza

1312 51st Ave. N., Nashville, TN 37209 • (615) 649-8917
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.

In late 2017, Nate Bagby and his restaurant partners secured a location in The Nations for their newest restaurant, Midnight Oil Pizza (they also own The Centennial). They took their time developing the concept and figuring out a game plan. Wrapping up construction at the end of 2019, they decided on a Spring 2020 opening for their passion project, looking forward to offering the neighborhood a chance to enjoy their pizza and a full bar.

It wasn’t until the day before their official opening, on March 13, that Nate and his partners heard rumors of a potential citywide shutdown due to COVID. “We got through our soft opening that weekend, and then learned we might just be closing right back up,” Nate says. “I think, naturally, we were trying to think long-term about taking care of our employees and paying the bills in an uncertain future. But Midnight Oil had been so long in the making, with so many difficulties already, we didn’t really feel anything regarding its opening being delayed again. We just planned on playing things by ear based on what the government was going to allow us to do.”

Though the approved guidelines technically allowed the restaurant to stay open during Safer at Home, the owners felt they couldn’t responsibly host St. Patrick’s Day festivities, and suspended their services until the holiday was over. Nate and his team gave up on their timeline expectations and started focusing on keeping their patrons and employees safe. “We spent a week or so doing carry-out orders, and decided very quickly that it was more cost-effective for us, and also better for our employees, to move the entire staff of both places over to Midnight Oil, and only keep one location open until further notice,” he explains. With an exterior-facing bar and roll up garage doors, Midnight Oil ended up being perfectly designed for curbside pickup. “The first couple of weeks were a constant dance of dealing with the volume that our carry-out window was doing,” Nate tells us. “We had to keep updating methods for keeping people properly spaced, and preventing them from lingering on the patio, while still trying to appreciate them as our guests.”

While hard work may have gotten his restaurant doors open, Nate says he’s reminded every day that his customers’ continual patronage is what pays the bills. Thankful for all of the continued support the community is giving to small businesses during this time, Nate says, “There are a lot of businesses that didn’t, or won’t, make it through this. We are grateful that we have so far. The support means everything.”

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Midnight Oil Pizza’s location and walk-up window make them an accessible destination for a quick slice of pizza and to-go cocktails. Foot traffic picked up almost immediately after it opened. Once the word spread, their call-in and online ordering volume picked up as well, and that has since expanded into their dining room. Image: Midnight Oil Pizza

Congrats to these new local businesses, and we look forward to seeing how they grow!

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