In the Know: The sport of owning a small business

In business as in sports, you don’t get to stop training once the season begins. It is during this time of COVID-19 that we small business owners are putting our training to the test.

I am a business owner. I am on a team of business owners, that team is Alexandria Downtown Merchants Association. This is my perspective, my interpretation, of what it is to be a player in the sport of business ownership and a member of the ADMA Team.

Owning a small business can be hard. For those of you readers who are athletes, or those of you readers who support a sports team, from our hometown teams to the big league sports you’ll understand the analogy; owning a business is much like participating in a sport, an ultra-endurance sport.

Growing up, I played a variety of sports, from ice skating, gymnastics, volleyball, track, basketball and dance to name a few. Beyond high school sports, as an adult, I played coed competitive volleyball into my 40s and at the age of 40 took up road biking and managed to throw four Century Rides (100 miles on a bike at one time, in one day) under my belt. Sports and the mindset needed to participate in sports, particularly an endurance sport has been a constant for most of my life.

What all of this time involved in athletics has taught me, among many things, is how to fine tune your strategy on the fly, how to think quickly, how to work within a team, and probably the most important thing I’ve learned about is endurance. This element, endurance, has been a constant theme in all of the different sports I’ve participated in and one of the most important qualities an athlete can possess. This, and grit. The amount of endurance and grit one is able to cultivate and grow during training is a key component as to whether an athlete and the team can go the distance.

In business as in sports, you don’t get to stop training once the season begins. It is during this time of COVID-19 that we small business owners are putting our training to the test. As a small business owner, I look back at the hard times we’ve faced and now realize that it has been part of my (our) training. Training to stay in the game, play smart, play hard; endure when the ultimate opponent showed up.


Times for example, when we had to close our doors for the day; the winter of 2019 stands out. Those days are hard. The reality is we lose revenue that is difficult to make up. The hit takes the wind right out of our sails…and sales. We don’t know how we can keep going, but we do. We wait for the second wind to come, as we know it will come, and when it does, we ride out that wave for as long and hard as we can. Much like a cyclist, we look for the window when we draft at the back of the pack, catching our breath, slowing our heart rate. The pack works together, in unison to protect the tired riders and keep the whole team moving in the same direction at the same pace.

Alexandria Downtown Merchants Association is a lot like that cycling pack. They have worked and continue to work tirelessly, strategizing, planning, and implementing game plans for team growth and strength. The objective and mindset is long term continued expansion and survivability for all teammates; downtown Alex. The countless events they have planned, from fundraising events for such things as beautification and flowers to the Wine, Ale and Art Crawls, all of these events are strategic, thought out and planned to bring the entire pack along, to that ever fluid finish line.

They have faced challenging opponents before, unforeseen large disasters; the fire that destroyed a large part of Downtown Alex on Feb. 25 is a recent example. They rallied together to support one another where they could. From in person conversations, to text messages to prayers offered, the team was there for one another. Social Media support for each other in the way of videos, likes and comments. They planned quickly, a fundraising effort for victims of the fire. And although some teammates came to a place in their career to explore other opportunities, they are, and always will be part of the team. We cheer them on with respect, hope and love.

As business owners, we face constant change, fast and difficult. A sick call, for example, that comes in 30 minutes before you’re to open up shop results in closing for the day, benched. That hurts. However, it is part of the game; we keep moving forward with the intention of gaining ground. And we do, we are tougher because of those days, we develop the skill of being comfortable being uncomfortable.

It would seem, all of this training has been for a time like this, a pandemic.

As challenging as “practices” have been, the sick calls, the weather, the slow days, it has all been in preparation for the game of all games. It has been training to endure the opponent of all opponents, COVID-19. In what is the game of my business life, survival is with the utmost certainty, at risk. Players have had to pivot quickly, to keep a trickle of revenue stream going. Many downtown businesses are offering curbside pickup and grab & go like never before. Restaurants, coffee shops to boutiques have moved quickly to adjust to the full court press of COVID-19. The online presence of many businesses have been enhanced, a power play to stay in the game.

How many businesses survive across our footprint and country remains to be seen. COVID-19 is far reaching in its devastation and it will take businesses with it. What it can never take however, is the spirit of sportsmanship. The spirit of comradery, and the spirit of TEAM. ADMA is a team I am proud to serve on, we are here for each other and we are here for and because of community.

#TogetherWeRise. We are #DowntownAlexStrong.


Patty Dusing is a business owner and serves on the board of directors for the Alexandria Downtown Merchants Association. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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