Business challenges, opportunities ushered in by pandemic

Darnell Farms now has drive-thru service

As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the world, some businesses in our small mountain town are feeling the impact of the pandemic, while others are seeing an increase in operations.

Doris Dyer, owner and operator of Dot’s Beauty Salon, is one small business owner who has been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

“I opened my little shop in 2006 and had plans to work for myself, doing what I love. Things ran so smooth until this coronavirus hit and Governor Cooper issued the order shutting salons down in March,” Dyer said. “I was closed from March until the second week in May when Cooper put NC into Phase 2, allowing us to re-open, following health and safety guidelines. Having to shut down for that long really put a hurting on my business, as this is the only means of work that I have.”

Dyer is operating on a by appointment only basis since reopening and is hopeful that she will be able to bounce back from the devastating blow she experienced.

“I work on my own, so it is important for me to be able to schedule my clients to where I don’t overwhelm myself physically. It was a bit frustrating when talks of reopening were going on because I ended up having to set appointments and then reschedule them a few times until we were given the final go ahead.”

She said help from family helped her through.

“If it would not have been for family and friends and of course God helping me through this trying time, I would not have a place to work anymore and I’m not sure where I would be,” she said. “All we can do is to continue to pray for an end and help each other get through this the best way we can.”

Afton Roberts of Darnell Farms shared a different perspective on the pandemic. Since covid made its way to the mountains, she and her staff have had to completely restructure how they operate, which has led to an overall increase in business.

“We live in a spoiled society. Everything is instant gratification; big chain dependent. Walmart and Lowe’s didn’t have to change much. We have had to totally overhaul our entire operating system here,” Roberts said of the family run farm where the produce stand had become a draw for tourists and locals alike.

Somewhat surprisingly, Roberts said she likes the change. Among the changes made at the farm include making the stand drive-thru only, increasing the ability for people to order online in advance and partnering with other local businesses to broaden what you can order, such as adding milk and meat. The farm also introduced a CSA program that is doing well.

“I’m not sure things will ever to back to ‘normal’ and even if they don’t, I’m okay with that. We have found what works for us and for us to be able to serve the community throughout all that’s going on,” Roberts said.

The coronavirus has caused people to be more restricted on how and where they get their food, and people have limited their trips out. This aspect of the pandemic has resulted in a positive outcome for Roberts and the farm.

“I think that covid-19 has made people realize that you have to centralize where you source and understand essential living. Fortunately for us, food is essential.”

Understanding the impact the virus has had on the community, Roberts said she felt strongly that she had to take a proactive role to see that elderly residents and people who are unable to make it to the farm to pick up their goods were not being left out.

At, people can make their orders and either pick it up at the drive through or choose delivery for a $5 surcharge.

“We decided to offer delivery as an option because we knew that not everyone would be able to make it here to pick up their orders,” Roberts said.

A popular question throughout the community has been what are the plans for the fall season on the farm. Darnell Farms is well known for it’s fall decorations, pumpkin patch and hayrides and family fun.

“We are still going to have fall festivities, it will just be a little different how we operate them and ensure the public’s safety,” Roberts said. “We will offer hayrides by appointment and select days and times for the pumpkin patch, limiting the number of people at a time entering the pumpkin patch and enforcing social distancing. We will be posting details on our Darnell Farms Facebook page, so be sure to check for updates.”

Roberts concluded by sharing how the coronavirus can offer us all some perspective.

“Overall, I think we should use the coronavirus as a learning experience. We have had to restructure not only our businesses but also our lives and it should remind people to realize what is truly important,” she said. “If I can do it, anybody can. We have to pull together as a community to help each other through this time of newness and uncertainty. I’m thankful to be able to do my part as well as keep our business running.”

Restaurants in the area went to drive through or delivery options only since COVID-19 made its way to the mountains.

Everett Street Diner, Loretta’s Snack Shack, The Iron Wok and The High Test Deli & Sweet Shop are four local businesses offering delivery options. NaBers Drive-In, CJ’s Grille, La Dolce Vita Bakery and the fast food chains are open for take out as well. For a complete list, along with contact information and locations of restaurants is available on the Swain County Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.

Realty and rental properties are two areas where COVID-19 has caused a spike in sales and operations. Dan Sikorra, owner of Fontana Realty and manager of Fontana Getaways, shared some insight as to how the coronavirus has caused him and his staff to stay busy with a flood of people wanting to purchase land and homes in the area, as well as an influx of reservations on the rental side of things.

Sikorra moved to Bryson City in 2003 from Charlotte and also shared his take on what it is like in the mountains and what drives many people to want to relocate to our area, especially from bigger cities.

“I relocated to the mountains, which is the perfect getaway leaving the big city. My lifestyle is better accommodated here by the outdoor options I have, like Deep Creek, for example,” he said. “I can see how other folks from all over would want to relocate to here. It’s a slower paced environment. You have a concrete jungle in the cities, but, here you have a plethora of natural beauty and outdoor adventures around every turn.  Coronavirus has driven people towards a smaller community in hopes of a different pace of life and also  of leaving higher populated areas to decrease their odds of catching the coronavirus.”

Because of this wave of out of towners arriving here and it continuing to increase, Sikorra said business is booming. “Real estate has seen an increase over the last 6-8 weeks,” he said. “I have been busy with scheduling showings and carrying on, business as usual, but a lot busier and with new restrictions on face to face interactions.”

Sikorra added that he is thankful.

“We were given the go ahead to re-open and follow strict cleaning guidelines for rental property reservations. This happened in June. As soon as restrictions were modified and things were up and running, it picked up immediately,” he said. “This has been a blessing for us to be able to continue to operate on both sides of the business. We are making it work the best way we know how, and anyone who is looking to relocate to the area, we have been thankful for them reaching out to us to help them through the journey. That goes for our locals as well. We are happy to be able to serve you, even from a modified scale.”

For rental property or real estate information, you can contact Dan at: