Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer
After COVID-19 brought comic book distribution to a halt, forcing Richmond business Velocity Comics to shut its doors, co-owner Rawn Gandy said he and his partner faced difficulties in reopening their Broad Street location.
“My partner and I started working harder and longer for less money,” Gandy said of him and co-owner Patrick Godfrey.
Small businesses like Velocity Comics on Broad Street are learning to adapt to COVID-19, with some looking to hire workers and others managing a heavier workload with no more employees than before.
Velocity Comics rolled out mail-order and delivery options, which remain available although the store has reopened its physical location at 819 W. Broad St. Delivery orders force back and forth communication with customers, Gandy said, adding at least another hour of work to each sale.
“Ultimately it adds time and draws out what used to be a normal transaction,” Gandy said in an email. The store owners say they can’t afford hiring another employee for the job.
Despite occasionally having to remind customers to pull up their masks, Gandy said he feels safe at the store and doesn’t think it poses more of a threat than simply going to the grocery store.
Now that The Lab by Alchemy Coffee at 814 W. Broad St. is open for takeout and delivery, owner Eric Spivack said he is searching for workers to replace those who decided not to come back. While the owner expects to fill the position, he was surprised by a low number of applicants.
“I would have expected to have more of a response,” Spivack said. “It’s just average demand.”
The Broad Street coffee shop remained closed over the summer due to a lack of foot traffic from Richmonders, Spivack said. The shop, which is a few doors down from VCU’s Fine Arts Building, reopened as students — its main source of business — returned to campus.
Spivack said the shop was able to stay closed by “hitting pause” on operations. He said he did not have to fire any employees.
“We weren’t losing money, we just weren’t making money,” Spivack said.
VCU employees continue to work in common areas, including dorm lobbies and front offices of campus buildings.
Sophomore mass communications major Robin LeBlanc is a first-generation college student in the Federal Work Study program. She worked for the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture’s front office during the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters before VCU sent students home in March.
“It’s very important I take advantage of everything the school offers me,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said she now works in the Robertson School’s Mac Lab, an editing space for broadcast students, where she enforces safety regulations such as mask wearing, social distancing and disinfecting work areas. LeBlanc said she always disinfects her area and the lab is “pretty quiet.”
According to the latest available statistics from the Virginia Employment Commission, the City of Richmond’s July unemployment rate was 12.3%. Richmond ranks 129 out of 134 cities and counties in Virginia in terms of unemployment. The statewide unemployment rate in July fell to 6.1%, down from 7.9% in June.