Co-owners Chas Bobier and Lawrence Reeves opened Wolf and Scout Coffee in February — a dream they had since their early teens.
Offering a selection of blends roasted by Onyx Coffee Labs alongside a selection of pastries, the new café is located inside the Columbia Arts Building, a hip hangout inside the bones of a renovated industrial building in the city’s arts district.
The spot has become a hub for locally-owned small businesses, which have thrived during the pandemic, a surprising time to prosper.
“It was a lot of things coming together at the right time,” Bobier said. “We had the idea, we found the space, and we thought that we might as well go for it. This has been a dream for each of us since we were teenagers.”
Bobier and Reeves are not alone. They join a slew of new entrepreneurs in Columbia, about 80 to 90 a month, who have opened a business since the onslaught of COVID-19, according to Maury County Clerk Joey Allen.
Allen said the ongoing pandemic has done little to keep locals from starting their own businesses as the county continues to see a steady flow of residents seeking new business licenses, while the state reports record growth for 2021.
For the past five years, Allen said his office has processed an average of 80 to 90 new business licenses each month — a statistic that has remained steady even as the state took action with mandates and restrictions on businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“It never let up,” Allen told The Daily Herald. “It has been this way since I have been here. It has always blown my mind how many businesses are opening.”
Allen said the licenses his office processes are a mix of brick and mortar operations including restaurants, cafes, boutiques and other in-person operations as well as at-home enterprises.
“You name it, we have it,” Allen said.
In the last five months, the county has issued 441 new licenses, keeping pace with activity in years past.
“I think this means that we are stable,” Allen said. “Business has not slacked up. We continue to sell business licenses almost every day. It is a never-ending thing.”
New business permits in Maury County:
- Jan.-June 7, 2020 – 441
- Jan.-June 7, 2021 – 477
- Full year 2020 – 835
– Data by Maury County Clerk’s Office
Wil Evans, president of Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance, said the data represents almost a 10% increase in new business permits for Maury County, over last year.
“This is a very exciting trend to see, especially coming off of a very atypical year for many businesses,” Evans said. “I am hopeful the increase will continue to grow during the second half of 2021. It is also positive to see the trends in new business activity cover the spectrum of large to small. Entrepreneurism is often underappreciated, but that is where many of the most unique and successful businesses begin.”
25% of businesses operate at home
Kitty Littleton and Kristin Clark, the two tasked with processing all businesses licenses, said the vast majority of new businesses are service-based, including hair salons, cleaning enterprises, dog grooming businesses and lawn care.
The two estimate more than 25% of recently filed licenses are for businesses that are operated out of local homes.
“They are excited,” said Littleton, who takes calls from prospective business owners on a daily basis.
Clark said some of those who lost work decided to work for themselves from home, opening up online shops of their own through retailers like Amazon and Etsy.
Now as the state reopens, Clark said some continue to do so seeking independence and the benefits of working from home.
“Because of the pandemic, some have learned to make money at home, and now others continue to do the same,” Clark said.
Reawakened passion for small business
The two young entrepreneurs, Bobier and Reeves, said Columbia’s low cost of entry allowed them to take the risk and open up a shop of their own.
“Columbia is a town that is welcoming and excited about new business,” Bobier said. “We want this to be something close and something intimate. We wanted to do this affordably.”
About four months after opening, the two said they are about two months ahead reaching the goals they had expected to reach half a year after opening.
“As hard as COVID has been and was, it has reawakened people’s passion for small business,” Reeves said. “This seemed like an opportune time to do this. People have just been so excited to support us. The community has been amazing to us. People in this community want to collaborate. They want to make something. When you come to a small town you can do that.”
A historic surge in new businesses across the state
The Tennessee Quarterly Business and Economic Indicators Report shows that new business filings in the first quarter of 2021 grew 55.1% compared to the quarter filings of 2020.
The increase is noted as the largest year-over-year gain in the 28 years the data has been collected by the state with the expectation that the filings lead to growth in jobs, personal income and state revenue.
“This data is an encouraging sign and a strong vote of confidence by Tennesseans and people worldwide investing in our state’s business and entrepreneur-friendly environment,” secretary of state Tre Hargett said in a recent media release.
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According to the office, the first quarter of 2021 is the third straight quarter in which new business filings grew by more than 30% compared to the prior year. A typical strong annual gain for any given quarter is about 15%.
The boom has roughly doubled or tripled top quarters from the past with the state reporting positive year-over-year growth in initial filings for 37 consecutive quarters.