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Black North Carolina small business owners find financial stability amid pandemic before Election Day

CBS News is chronicling what has changed for the lives of Americans in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It had been four months since Geek in Heels owner Shalisha Morgan's electronic repair kiosk in the Hanes mall in Winston-Salem had been open when she returned in August. Though the mall reopened in June after COVID-19 closed it earlier in the year, Morgan, 39, didn't feel it was safe to go back at the time.

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Geek in Heels owner Shalisha Morgan reopened her electronic repair kiosk in the Hanes mall in Winston-Salem in August after having to shut down earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Provided by Shalisha Morgan

Many stores in the mall—including a competitor — permanently shut their doors during the pandemic, Morgan said. Though mall traffic has been slower because patrons are still wary of COVID-19, she's thankful that during the pandemic she was able to successfully transition to conducting home repairs when she couldn't work out of the mall.

"I'm kind of struggling just a little bit with survivor's remorse. Just last week, I had a friend who closed up her bakery," said Morgan. "So I feel a little bit of guilt that I've been thriving during this time while other people are barely even surviving."

When CBS News spoke to Morgan in June, she had successfully made her electronic repair operation mobile and was making more money and seeing more clients doing home repairs than during her time in the mall. But she was also incurring more travel expenses because she was driving to multiple cities to perform repairs.

Morgan only did two home repairs in August, a drastic change from the more than 100 clients she was servicing in a month earlier this year. The mother of two noted that even though she wasn't making as much in the mall as she was with home repairs, she feels financially stable.

With the exception of one federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, Morgan hasn't received any additional federal or local financial assistance. She received an Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance this past summer but said she was ultimately rejected for the loan because of her personal credit score.

Still, she's managed to adapt to what she calls her new normal.

"I don't think that it will go back to the way that it used to be," said Morgan. "People are going to continue to stay at home — they have to because their children now are at home with them in the state of North Carolina, doing virtual learning."

Patrick Williams on the other hand, said more and more patrons are learning about his restaurant, Pier 34 Seafood & Pub in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and some are even traveling quite a distance to support it —a move that has turned around his business.

"Because a lot of Black businesses are supporting each other, there's really, really support coming out—and not just Black people, but Black and White [people]," Williams said. 

When CBS News last spoke to Williams, 45, his business — like many others — was months away from a tough decision about whether to close permanently. Pier 34 had only been open for four months when the pandemic struck. Williams said things feel steady now.

"No, we're not going to close. We're still pressing on. We're still holding on," said Williams. "At times [we] still use our personal funds but like I said, we're still moving forward."

Though the restaurant has reopened, Williams said it's still following safety guidelines dictated by the pandemic. The restaurant provides masks for patrons who don't have their own, and Williams said there's plenty of hand sanitizer available.

Coronavirus and the elections 

Williams applauded Governor Roy Cooper's management of the pandemic, calling it exceptional. This month, Cooper announced that the state would enter a phase 2.5 of reopening, which raises the limit of people allowed to gather indoors from 10 to 25 and outdoors from 25 to 50.

Cooper is up for re-election and will be on the ballot along with the presidential candidates, but Williams said the coronavirus won't be on his mind as he's voting

"It doesn't play a big part for me, as far as which direction I'm going to go in when I vote," said Williams. "Whether the coronavirus is gone tomorrow or here for the next five years, my beliefs on everything will still be the same."

Morgan said that when she was making repair house calls this summer, she visited a client's home in an unfamiliar rural town where flags supporting President Trump decorated almost every home in the neighborhood. She recalled feeling afraid when she noticed the flags because she said she wasn't sure how she'd be welcomed in the neighborhood. Though her father calmed her with a phone call in the moment, she said the experience brought into focus why she won't be voting for the president in the general election.

"For me, and my best interest for me and my children, I'm voting for Biden and Harris."

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