Driving down Main Street in Inman, South Carolina, feels a little like driving through a time machine. Antique stores, gift shops and an old Rexall drugstore seem a long way away from the chaos of 2020.
Despite its appearance, the community hasn’t been spared by the COVID-19 pandemic. This small town has felt the effects just as much as any other American city.
“Since this pandemic, everyone has kind of slowed down. I’ve noticed it’s been really quiet,” said Inman Mayor Cornelius Huff. “That’s kind of unusual for us. I never would have anticipated something like this happening, and we all had to stop, slow down and re-adjust to the situation.”
Over the past few months, small businesses across the country have struggled. Their typical customer base has been encouraged to stay home when possible to avoid spreading the virus. In bigger cities, many small businesses have had to close, but some of Inman’s small business owners credit the tightly-knit community for supporting them during the pandemic.
“We’ve had people being extra supportive for us as a small business in town,” said Ginger McGuire, co-owner of Delightful Dishes, a popular Inman restaurant. “People have been so encouraging, both supporting us in business and being verbally supportive.”
In turn, business owners have been able to return the favor. Christi Stanton, owner and director of Starmakers Dance Company, said her business hasn’t seen much change, both due to the community’s loyalty and the company’s mission to keep children active.
“I think one of the best parts about being in a small town is that everyone supports each other and looks out for each other. It’s really amazing,” she said.
The entire city has rallied to support others, but especially students. In the spring, the graduating seniors at Chapman High School learned they would have to forgo the traditional graduation ceremony. Instead, the local government decided to honor the students in a different way.
Seniors had posters made with their name and picture – over 200 in all – which were displayed along Main Street in downtown Inman. Students and their families were able to visit the downtown area and take pictures with their posters.
“Students, if you just listen to them, they’ll tell you what they need,” said Huff. “You have to be present to hear what they have to say. So we’ve been keeping our presence very close to them and finding out what they need from us.”
The community stood tall once again when school re-opened in the fall, and students, faculty and staff at local schools needed access to resources to maintain the health guidelines set by the state. Specifically, the Chapman football coaches contacted the city government to ask for masks for players. The city was able to sponsor masks for players, cheerleaders and coaches, complete with school and city logos to symbolize their partnership.
“We’ve always supported our schools,” said business owner Bob Seawright, owner of Seawright Funeral Home. “We do ads with our local schools and try to sponsor things. It’s a different year, but we still try to support them.”
“We are so grateful to our communities for their unwavering support and generosity over the last several months. Our schools could not be successful without the support of our community and business partnerships,” said Sanda Williams at the Spartanburg District 1 office
Even through unpredictability, the sense of community in Inman is palpable, especially toward students, teachers and staff at local schools. Everyone recognizes the extra work that school nurses are putting in to take care of students and keep them in school.
“It’s definitely easier to deal with stressful situations when you have a tight-knit small community because it’s like family,” said Marianne McElveen, owner of Kempson Rexall Drugs. “People are understanding and know that we’re all in this together, and the only way to get through it is to work together. I think we’ve made the best of a challenging situation.”
By Katherine Waters