business matters

Rallying support for the front lines

Heading into the pandemic, the coffee shop and candy business Barry Cummings' family operated since 1905 was riding a high note.

Cummings had just opened a new location, securing a high-traffic site on Route 8 south in Penn Township. Already thriving were the original historic storefront on the city's Main Street, the “west” location on Evans City Road, which boasted weekend live entertainment and a bustling café welcoming guests and workers inside Butler Memorial Hospital's Tower Lobby.

Cummings Coffee & Candy was in a growth and hiring mode.Then the COVID-19 pandemic began, and everything changed so quickly that Barry himself was often solo manning the main store heading into Easter … traditionally the biggest chocolate sale season of the year.

Technically a restaurant because of the coffee service, Cummings remained open, but traffic slowed as some surrounding businesses were not open and people were warned to leave their homes for essential life purposes only.

“Sales are at 20 percent … ” Cummings said. “That means every dollar that we used to take in is now 20 cents. But my fixed costs remain the same. I'm concerned for my community. I'm concerned for my businesses.”

Cummings once growing staff of 18 was cut to six, and business hours were slashed to half-days.

Early on in the pandemic, Cummings had an idea to rally community support for himself and hospital workers. He allowed the community to purchase gift certificates to be used by hospital workers inside the café. Cummings chipped in an extra 20 percent of value on top of what was donated.

The initial response overwhelmed the Cummings staff and they temporarily capped the program when it hit $1,700 in donations plus his $340.

But after a short regroup, Cummings reinstituted the program and it quickly surged to $5,000 in donations and another $1,000 chipped in by Cummings.

“I rethought that decision of capping it,” Cummings said. “The hospital employees needed a bright spot in their day and we'll recover from issuing the discounts.”