Michelle and Dabbs McInnis have been selling jellies, baked goods and other food through their Sweet Spot brand for six years.
In February, they were finally able to open their own Jacksonville storefront on E. 8th Street in Springfield - just more than a month before the COVID-19 pandemic would break out in the U.S., forcing many stores to close or change their business models to remain afloat.
Part of the benefit of having a physical storefront for Sweet Spot and Urban Lounge was the chance to listen to music while eating.
“When [the pandemic] shut everything down to where you couldn't have anyone sitting in, that pretty much affected us,” said Michelle McInnis.
COVID-19 also eliminated the chance of having game nights or other planned events. The store is just now starting to bring those back.
For Dabbs, it’s also put his other organization for a good cause at a standstill.
He runs a nonprofit called Dare-2-Hire, with a goal of helping people with disabilities train their skills and find work.
McInnis said the idea for the organization started during his time as a special education teacher, a job he’s had to return to during the pandemic.
“I felt some of my students were getting lost,” Dabbs said.
Sweet Spot has two employees with disabilities, and Dabbs said the plan before the pandemic was to hire more. One is their daughter, Ashley. Another man helps them with day-to-day operations.
“They’re just like the rest of us,” Dabbs said. “They love to work, they love to pay their own bills, they’re going to show up on time...you just have to let employers know there are accommodations.”
While the country is facing high unemployment numbers due to business closures from the pandemic, the rate for people with disabilities is even higher. As of October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has it at 11.1%. In April, it was more than 19%.
The McInnis’ said they wanted to use Sweet Spot as a location where people in the Dare-2-Hire program could learn essential skills before moving on into the work field. But they’ve been unable to connect with more people due to the pandemic.
“I’m a little concerned, not just for the program itself, but for other programs, too,” Dabbs said.
Michelle said she believes the business will be fine due to extra revenue streams, such as their homemade jelly and other items they sell. She also thinks the Springfield area’s revitalization will help bring extra business.
“As long as people are eating, I think we’ll be good,” she said.
The store will also host different classes to learn certain skills, and Michelle said they'll start hosting game nights and other events closer to the weekend again to bring people back to the store, while following social distancing guidelines.
For Dare-2-Hire, the hope from Dabbs is that it comes back strong in 2021.
“Once it's safe for everybody to go out, then things should roll along,” Dabbs said.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.