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Essential businesses step up during COVID-19 pandemic

NATCHEZ — When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out many businesses had to shut down due to a lack of customers or because of safety guidelines to help limit the potential spread of the disease.

Some businesses, however, had to step up the games more than ever because they were deemed essential businesses, meaning they provide services that had to continue despite the pandemic to help fill important needs in the community.

J.E. Hicks Distributing Company and Big M Supply Company are essential businesses that have been open in Natchez throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only have the two local companies stayed open providing essential services to the community, they also have kept their employees working through the pandemic.

“I know that my employees’ paychecks are very important to them and they’re counting on it,” said John Hicks, owner of J.E. Hicks Distributing Company. “I try to have something for my employees to do, so they will make a full paycheck every week.”

Both employees and owners have faced challenges during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Wes Middleton, owner of Big M Supply, said managing inventory during the pandemic has been a big adjustment for his company.

“It typically takes us about four days to get our chemical orders in once we place them,” Middleton said. “Our second order in March took us five weeks to get it and there were some items on back order that took us close to two months to get.”

Rachel Torries, 50, works at J.E. Hicks filling orders and loading customers’ vehicles.

Torries said when the pandemic started two months ago, she was fearful.

“I learned when people are scared and feel panicked, they stockpile food and necessities,” Torries said. “I actually took my week vacation time, from April 20-24, because I was scared and stressed.”

Hicks said since the pandemic started in March, he has sold different products, such as bleach, to customers.

Hicks said his company has seen a 50% increase in retail sales due to customers eating more at home during the stay-at-home order.

Yolanda Jones, 42, is a cashier for J.E. Hicks and has worked for the company for four years.

As a cashier, Jones greets customers through a face shield and she wears gloves.

“It’s different but it’s something that we have to do,” Jones said. “I have worked for the company before but not like this. You just have to stay positive and do what you need to do.”

As restaurants in Natchez and the surrounding areas are reopening, Hicks said he hopes the restaurants can come back stronger than before the pandemic started.

“It’s going to be tough on a lot of restaurants because without assistance from the loans, they are going to have a difficult time of coming back,” Hicks said. “I think it’s going to be tough on a lot of people and that trickles down to us supplying them.”