Local businesses during the pandemic


Jonathan Hatchett | Staff Photographer

Rosenbaum House Museum, a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was built to accommodate for the Rosenbaum family and was donated to the City of Florence in 1999. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, tours of this museum have significantly.

Jonathan Hatchett, Staff Writer

The Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts is a cultural arts center with ever-chaning exhibits. It consists of two historic homes and hosts year round art classes and workshops. ( Jonathan Hatchett | Staff Writer)
Pope’s Tavern was built during the 1810s and served as a hospital during the Civil War. It is located in downtown Florence and is offering tours, but masks are required.

The pandemic did much to displace many things, more prominently in its wake the dreams and aspirations of the owners of local businesses. Hit hard, they sought to pick themselves up one day at a time. Here are a local few and what they did to stay alive in more ways than one.

Ivy Green is located in Tusumbia, Alabama, not 15 minutes from Florence. It is the birthplace of America’s First Lady of Courage, Helen Keller, and the museum it houses closed its doors for the first time since 1954 during this pandemic.

“We are not federally or state-owned, therefore we have to rely on visitors coming through our doors,” Executive Director Sue Pilkilton said.

Pilkilton herself has given 50 years to the birthplace of Helen Keller, and wears many hats besides that of Executive Director. She says she basically does whatever needs to be done and asks visitors to wear masks and practice social distancing. She and others cover the cleaning.

“We closed our doors on March 17 due to a state-mandated law and reopened on May 23,” Pilkilton said. “I worked everyday working on grants, overseeing work being done on the Miracle Worker set [and] having plexiglass installed, making sure that when the governor said we could reopen we were ready.”

Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) has been a staple in the area since 1959. Despite its seat in the music world, it is still a business, and one that was significantly affected by the pandemic.

“The pandemic has affected our business by forcing us to close for one month and losing significant income.” FAME’s CEO Linda Hall said. “The quarantine has cut our tourism business in half and has affected our studio bookings.”

Hall says there were no bookings for a while, but they have begun to pick up some. She knows that with the new wave of technology came artists whose entire studios fit into the palm of their hands. With Covid-19 came a lull, but FAME’s reputation still precedes them … it was not for lack of relevance. She has taken precautions for the ones that choose to use their facilities.

“We do require masks to be worn to enter the building, use an air purification system [and] sanitize everything after we have visitors,” Hall said.

Florence’s own Trowbridges has been peddling their sweet wares for 102 years, all the while operating from the same establishment and run by the same family. Don Trowbridge, third generation owner, had to shut the storefront down for over a month.

“Still had bills to pay but no income,” Trowbridge said. “Paid all employees even though we were closed. They came in and did a lot of cleaning.”

He and his staff are keeping patrons safe by wearing masks and gloves, serving orders in plastic boxes and washing their hands after any contact with money or credit cards.

Libby Jordan, the superintendent of Arts and Museums for the City of Florence, is head over four local businesses: Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts, the Rosenbaum House, Florence Indian Mound and Museum and Pope’s Tavern Museum. All four shut down in March due to the pandemic.

“Our staff continued to work daily creating online programming, working on inventories, special collections, future programming and interpretation,” Jordan said.

They reopened on June 2 where they saw few visitors. They are now at 50 percent visitation compared to last year’s numbers.

“Only 8 people were allowed in the museums at one time to accommodate social distancing,” Jordan said. “Masks, of course, were and still are required. We have sanitizing stations at the entrance of each museum and signage showing the traffic flow.”

To adapt to the times, Jordan and her staff have increased an online presence in their museums. Art shows, children’s art classes, lectures and videos were all created so people at home could experience and participate virtually. They have also changed how touring is done at Alabama’s lone Frank Lloyd Wright structure, the Rosenbaum House.

“We began self-guided tours at the Rosenbaum House since no guided tours were possible,” Jordan said. “Signage, a self-guided brochure and an interpreter there to answer questions all allowed the visitors to continue enjoying the house.

The Alabama Music Hall of Fame used the lack of patron traffic to think up new ways of revamping their business as well, making some cosmetic improvements to the building during quarantine.

“We totally gutted our gift shop and have had new flooring, new paint and all new furniture and fixtures installed in the gift shop area,” Executive Director Sandra Burroughs said. “We plan to have a re-grand opening once everything is completed and roll out a whole new line of items that will all be related to Alabama, music, tourism, singing and highlighting all the wonderful things we feature in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.”

Joe Wheeler State Park — a mainstay of the area for over 70 years — is not the traditional brick and mortar, but a business nonetheless. David Barr is the assistant superintendent to the park and he shared how it is coping.

“Being a state park people were looking for ways to get outdoors, so the park’s outdoor activities increased. Golfing, hiking, biking, fishing, boating etc. All brought a lot of people into our park when the pandemic first started,” Barr said. “People were stir crazy and anxious, so our park brought much relief to those who were dealing with mental and physical anguish.”

They encourage social distancing, the obligatory washing of hands, avoiding touching of the face and wearing masks and gloves. They clean and sanitize all of their public facilities and restrooms.

“We also have used many resources provided to us from our Montgomery Office: hand sanitizer, face mask, gloves, temperature readers and now new disinfecting foggers for all our overnight indoor facilities,” Barr said.

The Coon Dog Cemetery, another outdoor business, is the only one of its kind.  It is the world’s only final resting place for over 300 coonhounds, dogs bred to hunt raccoons. President and CEO of the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau Susann Hamlin, pronounced “Suzanne,” goes there with her family four times out of the year.

“The roads getting to the cemetery are kept nicely by Colbert County. It is a beautiful, picturesque spot for the burial grounds,” Hamlin said. “The woods and a nearby spring make it a place you want to visit time and again. Adequate signage is provided until you get there and see the sign that reads; Coon Dog Cemetery, the only one of its kind in the world.”

The cemetery is the only business mentioned that did not shut down any part of its facilities, or lack thereof. It is simply a plot of land meant for the beloved coondogs of raccoon hunters past and present.

“At the cemetery, there are no rules in place since it is located in a very secluded place, and is out in the open, amongst the trees,” Hamlin said. “Most of the time, when people are visiting there, they are the only people there at the time. And, even if other vehicles come up while you are there, it is easy to socially distance from them.”

The aforementioned local businesses may have made changes to their respective plans, but have made none in regards to quitting. Their goods and services continue to be made available to the people of Florence.

“This is FAME’s 60 year anniversary and we have no plans of stopping now,” Hall said. “Our plans are to become bigger and better and to be around as long as there is music to be created.”