Why the worst time can be the best time to start a business in York

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YORK, Pa. (WTHM) — Molly Halbert saw the most perfect place, with “this amazing courtyard,” to open the bricks-and-mortar vintage clothing store she had always dreamed of creating.

But it was the most imperfect time: in the middle of a pandemic.

“Sometimes I wake up and say, ‘Oh, I did open a shop when times were the hardest,” joked Halbert, the owner of m.elene, as she calls her company.

On the other hand, if she lost her mind, turns out a few dozen other new business owners in York city alone, among countless others in the state and country, lost their minds too.

Or did they?

“It’s really a unique anomaly in American history,” said Kevin Schreiber, president, and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance. “On the heels of depressions or recessions, we’ve actually typically seen an economic boost.”

The reason? Well, you could study the data, or you could just ask Molly.

“We’re not investing a ton of money because we don’t need to,” she said. Less money than she might have to invest at a better overall time for retail. For example, she said she got a great deal leasing vacant space because the landlord “wanted someone in here and didn’t think anybody was going to bite.”

That eased the pressure to start generating a lot of quick revenue, which doesn’t mean things have gone badly: Although she’s ramping up slowly, business is better “than I ever dreamed it would be at this point,” Halbert said.

And her long-term prospects? Well, there are no guarantees. But once again, look at the history.

“Unquestionably there are businesses that exist today, who are doing well, who got their start during past downturns,” Schreiber said.

That’s as true, he said, for multinational companies that bought excess equipment and internet bandwidth for pennies on the dollar in the early 2000s after other companies in the late 1990s paid too much for it new and went broke. As it is for decade-old York businesses that got their start during the Great Recession.

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