BILLINGS - The Billings Chamber of Commerce is kicking off their Small Business Appreciation Week Monday, starting with a small business bus tour around town.

It's been a tough year for business owners during the pandemic, but they say this summer looks promising.

"We hadn't even been open for a year when the pandemic hit, so it's really just felt like a really long year," Owner of Something Chic Linda Brooks said.

After that really long year, a really long bus showed up to Linda Brook's store to show her some love. The Billings Chamber of Commerce organized a tour to support local businesses. 

"I've probably shipped more things here in Billings than anywhere else," Brooks said.

Luckily, Linda got her store's website set up just before the pandemic started, but she still had to make a tough decision with her one employee.

"She had just started, and had worked for four days, and after that I told her, 'I don't have a schedule for you after this,' because we ended up closing our doors the next week," Brooks said.

However, her business survived and she says the times are changing as more people are getting active.

"I kind of had to lay her off, but when we opened back up, she was able to come back on and work part time for me," Brooks said.

But just a few blocks over, the situation was much different at Zest Billings.

"COVID was painful, but for some people, it opened up the ability to be home and nest, and try new things," Co-owner Marguerite Jodry said.

For some, one of those new things was cooking, and that helped Jodry's shop thrive in the midst of tough times. She sells everything you could ever need for your kitchen. 

"We had heard from other people in this industry that, despite having to go to curbside pickup or delivery, they were still doing really well," Jodry said.

And she faces a unique problem; Now that life is slowly getting back to normal, she wonders what will happen to the sales numbers.

"We've wondered from time to time if our sales will continue to be as good as people go back to their offices and kids go back to school," Jodry said.

But what she does not question, is her location.

"We would not have opened this business anywhere else. Billings was the right place to do it," Jodry said.

The Billings Chamber says hotel visitation is up to 90% of normal, meaning it's very close to usual attendance numbers.

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