Magnolia Businesses Stay Afloat During Pandemic

Mule Kick Owner, Christy Ouei
Mule Kick Owner, Christy Ouei

Mule Kick

Although things have certainly improved since many businesses were state-mandated to close last spring, local restaurants and salons in Magnolia, AR still feel the impact of COVID-19. At MuleKick in Magnolia, owner Christy Ouei had the challenge of closing last spring. She closed for two weeks in October due to COVID exposure among her staff.

MuleKick, which offers uncommon pizzas with various crusts, craft beer, a coffee bar, and ice cream, has 26 employees. Live music and other performances are a constant on the patio, known to sell out.

“We have a very strong customer base, and we were proud because we did shut down, and then so many came back when we opened back up,” she said. “Some of the most reliable customers have used the drive-thru to pick up meals, and for some of these customers, they have only gotten drive-thru or deliveries since the first shut down by the state in March.

Because of healthy delivery and drive-thru business, MuleKick could still do 30-percent of its regular business after the spring closings.

“This was compared to other places where it didn’t make sense to stay open,” she said. “COVID training is something MuleKick has implemented, and the staff was required to watch videos about correctly serving food and drinks. One of the training aspects is that each time a customer needs a refill, they bring them a fresh glass of their beverage.”

“MuleKick opened its doors in 2019, and the pandemic has been a big part of that,” she said. “We’ve spent as much time open in a pandemic as we have operating not in a pandemic. It’s easy to accept the new norm because we were new. MuleKick is all about the exceptional atmosphere, and except for having to wear a mask, our interaction with the customer has not changed.”

Spring Fever

Recently, there has been a sense of lightheartedness and sunny days are busy because Ouei thinks people are having an early case of spring fever, especially after being at home so much in 2020.

“People are hungry for normal, so if we present the same friendly face and experience when they come in, that is reassuring and comforting,” she said. MuleKick also sells T-shirts, coffee cups, and other gift items with their logo.

Tomarie’s Hair Fashions

Just minutes away from MuleKick is Tomarie’s Hair Fashions, which has been in business for 64 years, and it’s the longest established salon in Magnolia. There, the owner and two stylists are continuing to face business as the pandemic continues. State order requires the shop to have no more than ten people inside, including three women who work there, said Kristin Hawkins, stylist.

Everyone must also wear a mask to enter, and employees must take their temperature and have them fill out a piece of paper to serve as a tracking sheet should COVID be introduced to the shop somehow.

Tommie Shelts, owner of Tomarie's Hair Fashions
Tommie Shelts, owner of Tomarie’s Hair Fashions

Wearing masks all day while you cut, color, perm, and style hair is a challenge because it can get very hot. Tomarie’s owner, Tommie Shelts, said it is challenging.

“I don’t like wearing masks, but I do it for my customers’ safety,” she said. “I will be thankful when I don’t have to wear it anymore.”

When businesses, including salons, were closed by the state last March, Shelts’ staff were lucky because she had been paying unemployment on them for years, so they did have some income coming in.

“It was absolutely the first time any of us have ever had to draw it,” said Carolyn Yates, stylist. “I’m 72, and this was the first time I had to draw unemployment. The process of getting on unemployment was frustrating. It was not easy, and I did not like it.”

Several customers at Tomarie’s are elderly and have not been able to come back yet as their health is compromised. That has taken its toll on earnings.

“My personal income is probably about half of what it was before COVID. It’s that drastic of a difference,” Yates said. “But I would still rather be here than drawing unemployment.”

The Bright Side

Those customers who do have compromised health and come to the salon anyway are often one of the only places they get to go and visit others. Yates said she kept the Christmas tree up to make customers smile. Instead, she turned it into a colorful Mardi Gras celebration tree. She even brought some of her New Orleans souvenir beads.

“Making the people who come in feel happy is more important now than ever,” said Yates, who recently cooked a peanut butter and chocolate cake for all clients. “I have clients who call me, and they are in tears because they are afraid to leave their house. Others can’t stay away. We try to be very careful and clean everything, and we’ve had to change our habits a lot. I think our attitude is important.”

In addition to safety measures around the shop, the three employees of Tomarie’s attempt to do their best not to go many places.

“This year, I didn’t go to the stores for Christmas, and I didn’t see my sister and children for the holidays. We are limiting how many people we see when we are not here. We shop at times that are not crowded, which is early in the morning and not on the weekend.”

Farmers Bank & Trust stands ready to help you or your business with impacts from COVID-19. View COVID-19 resources online, here.

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Becky Bell is an award-winning newspaper writer who has worked at numerous newspapers including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Texarkana Gazette. Prior to becoming a freelance journalist, Becky worked in the Communications Department at Southern Arkansas University and served as University Editor. While working there, she also received a Master’s in public administration.

She is a dog lover and lives with her dog, Queenie Belle, a rescue Papillon-mix, in Magnolia, Arkansas. In her spare time, she volunteers for the Stew Pot at the United Methodist Church and attends Trinity Baptist Church. She also serves on the board of Compassion's Foundation Inc., which helps victims of domestic violence. She was born in Texarkana, Texas, and attended Texas High School where she first started writing stories for the Tiger Times.