New Businesses Move Forward in Pandemic Thanks to Community Support

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By Renee Ambroso | Photography by John Michael Simpson

A Havana Verde Mojito with housemade mint syrup at The Sycamore at Chatham Mills, a new local businesses surviving the pandemic.
A Havana Verde Mojito with housemade mint syrup at The Sycamore at Chatham Mills.

Colorful art covers the walls and hand-painted pottery fills the shelves at Tienda Hispana El Rayo in downtown Pittsboro, along with foodstuffs like pan dulce, fresh tortillas, candy and popsicles. Owners Jimmy Garcia and Tanya Garcia opened the shop on Oct. 16, 2020, as a way to connect their familial roots in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, and in Chatham County.

“We hope that when you step inside that you experience a little bit of what we love about Latinx culture,” Tanya explains.

The couple says they struggled in the past year with vendor and supply chain issues, having difficulty placing high minimum orders that larger chain stores can meet. “We work really hard to get every piece for our customers,” Tanya says. “And it means that much more when someone gets excited when they find an item they love.”

Another challenge Tanya and Jimmy face is getting the word out about their shop. Their social media accounts increase visibility, and the posts show people what’s in store – literally – when they stop by El Rayo. Despite a bumpy start last year, Tanya says, “ we are most excited to hit our first birthday. That’s a huge accomplishment.”

Supply chain issues delayed the opening of the new True Value Hardware General store on East Street in Pittsboro by several months, according to executive manager Raj Narayana. “Our families and friends stepped in and worked together in getting this set up,” Raj says, adding that support from town and county staff made it possible to open the store.

The aisles are stocked with power tools, batteries, paint and grills; Raj says the store also has offerings from area craftspeople, artists and vendors. He says they hope to add more locally made products in the next year as well as a tool rental center.

The pandemic presented a different challenge for Chanel Hart D’Aprix, broker and owner of Hart & Olive Real Estate Group – launching a new business and home schooling her three sons: August, Casmir, 10, and Preston, 8. “Lots of things shut down in [the spring] of 2020, but real estate wasn’t one of them,” Chanel says. “It was and continues to be important to stay on top of this ever-shifting real estate market to ensure my clients … are receiving as much up-to-date information as possible.”

Chanel and her husband, Ford D’Aprix, have lived at The Preserve at Jordan Lake for 10 years. Now, Hart & Olive serves as the listing firm for Corbett Landing, a 116-house community near Bynum, as well as a neighborhood in Alamance County. “I love helping buyers and sellers as life has created a time for them to transition [to a new home]. … It doesn’t feel like work.”

The husband-and-wife team behind The Sycamore at Chatham Mills also saw the pandemic impact their opening plans. Greg Lewis and Maria Parker-Lewis describe the headaches they overcame, like acquiring building materials and a commercial water heater in the size they needed.

Even after opening The Sycamore for dining in June, “hiring staff has been a real challenge,” Greg says. Staff members are trained in fine dining, but without a full roster, the restaurant’s reservation capacity is still limited.

On a brighter note, the couple says, they’ve gotten to meet new customers and have been supported by old ones in bringing their vision for the restaurant to fruition. “We have a unique and historic dining space,” Greg explains. With the kitchen up and running, Greg and Maria’s goal is to offer high-quality food, including sourcing their steaks from Creekstone Farms, where cattle is humanely raised.

Greg Lewis and Maria Parker-Lewis, owners of The Sycamore at Chatham Mills, a new local businesses, who saw the pandemic impact their opening plans, stand and talk to customers.
Maria Parker-Lewis and Greg Lewis chat with guests Bernadette Lindemer (left) and Annie Trant.

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