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Small businesses pivot to survive during coronavirus, COVID-19

Small businesses in Maine such as 'Zootility Tools' and 'Wine Wise' are making changes that will sustain their businesses for the long-term amid coronavirus

PORTLAND, Maine — "Adapt or perish." It's a famous saying from H.G. Wells. 

Today, it could be said to apply to various small businesses, trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether it's because various health and safety restrictions don't allow businesses to operate as usual, or because the demand for a product has changed, it's no secret that it's a hard time to be a small business.

However, through this time we've also seen Maine businesses adapt in interesting and creative ways.

Zootility Tools, a Portland-based company, saw a 95% drop in revenue during the third week of March.

"The products we made before, which were in demand at tourist locations, suddenly fell off a cliff and were no longer in demand," says Zootility founder Nate Barr. "Businesses that we were selling to had to close their doors. Everyone wanted to cancel their order." 

Recognizing the business was in trouble, Zootility adapted and innovated. It stopped or slowed the manufacturing of many of its old products and developed something new. 

It's called the "Careful Key" and it can be used to safely touch surfaces and open doors, without picking up germs. 

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It's laser cut from copper, a material coronavirus can't survive on for long. 

"If you happen to be at a coffee shop in the future and they spin the iPad around to have you select the tip amount, you can use this to select that," suggests Barr. 

The Careful Keys are selling well. "As fast as we can make them, people are buying them from us," says Barr. 

With that boost, Zootility has been able to rehire part of its workforce that it let go in March. 

Zootility Tools isn't the only business making significant changes. 

Sommelier and owner of 'Wine Wise' Erica Archer has completely reinvented her business.

While she once hosted intimate in-person wine tasting events, she is now holding virtual wine dinner in which she partners with a Portland restaurant. 

Archer says, "We deliver them to their houses, then they log on with myself and their chefs and it's amazing, we spend some hours together and I pair beautiful wine and they pair beautiful food!"

Archer says she's not bringing in as much money as before, but it's something. "We're hustling right now, and we're being very creative and not letting our guard down."

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In creating new products and new experiences, these Maine businesses are finding ways to adapt and change as our world changes.

"We're going to call this the new economy and we're going to assume that it's here to stay for the next 12 to 18 months and we're going to find a new business model that works in this economy," says Barr. 

Archer says, "The things we're doing now, as long as people want to still attend, maybe going on for quite some time." 

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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