While Norman’s economy was affected by national issues from the COVID-19 pandemic, it also saw limited area development.
2021 concluded for Norman with the grand opening of The Well, a Cleveland County quality of life project in downtown Norman, and the announcement of the return of a beloved restaurant. Its cannabis businesses also enjoy a new set of state laws that create operational clarity.
These developments were set against the backdrop of supply chain issues and labor shortages stemming from the effect of COVID-19 on the United States economy.
The Transcript has comprised a recap of business and development in Norman from 2021.
Supply chain issues hit home
From holiday gifts to plastic cups, local shops and restaurants experienced longterm difficulties accessing important items they need to operate without issues.
Consumers noticed spotty availability of products heading into the holiday season due to holdups at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.
“There’s around 70 vessels outside the Port of Long Beach with an estimated 500,000 containers, and unfortunately, that’s where almost every bit of our merchandise comes through,” said HobbyTown owner Gary Cahill.
Supply chain issues hit other industries in Norman as well. Restaurants in September struggled to get disposable cups and containers for their businesses.
Perc Pineda, chief economist for the Plastics Industry Association, said in August increased demand for plastic at the start of the pandemic, industry worker loss and a lack of raw materials contributed to the shortage.
Supply chain issues also left new car lots in town looking bare and caused record high used car prices. The Oklahoma City metro area had the third-largest increase in used car prices for August.
John J. McGregor, owner of The Pickup Shop on Flood, said in October a vehicle that normally costs $5,000-$8,000 likely cost $2,500 more.
Norman store owners also saw inflation adversely affect their overhead costs.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses reported an increased number of small businesses struggling to find workers. Nearly 50% of small businesses owners surveyed said they had jobs they simply couldn’t fill, and Norman was no exception to that.
The hiring shortage was seen over the holidays — a time of year when demand for part-time seasonal labor is up. More than 943,000 U.S. companies announced plans to hire additional holiday help in 2021 — an 11% increase from 2020, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Copelin’s and Kidoodle’s Toy Zone manager Dena Deveraux said her Main Street store has needed a part-time employee on the teacher supplies side of the store for months.
“Nobody wants to work Saturdays,” she said.
The hiring shortage continues into the new year.
Norman dispensaries now operate with additional clarity as the state’s regulatory agency, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority implemented emergency rules.
The rules from House Bill 2646 and Senate Bill 1033 were welcomed by a majority of dispensary owners because they will help to decrease illegal business activity.
The well received legislation included changes surrounding laboratory testing requirements and the working relationship between the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the OMMA.
Dispensary owners and managers expressed some concern about how the new rules affect the displaying of marijuana, expressing the importance of the deli style service that many patients had enjoyed before the rules’ implementation.
Ultimately, dispensary owners seek more defined lines for operation.
More than four years in the making, The Well opened in November in hopes of bringing programs, fitness, educational classes and events to downtown Norman.
The two-story, two-building facility at 210 S. James Garner Avenue was signed in September 2017 as part of Cleveland County’s master plan. The project cost around $7 million with at least 40 partners.
Located right off Main Street, the completed building is designed to hold space for fitness classes, cooking demonstrations, continuing education and the Norman Farm Market, said county communication manager Joy Hampton.
“It’s truly an all-in-one place to shop, learn and live, with a focus on improving health,” County Commissioner Darry Stacy said.
The farm market’s move to The Well was originally met with skepticism by vendors but was answered by venue executive director Melody Bays. Bays said the facility accommodates the vendors through a large parking lot, tents and a low-profile curb that allows for trailers.
The designated space for the farm market can be used for fitness classes, Hampton said.
The Well also holds Health at The Well Clinic. The clinic includes auto-immune panels, thyroid panels, hormone tests and consulting on gut health, according to clinician Nicole Garber.
Normanites buzzed with excitement after the former owner of a once-beloved Italian restaurant announced he’s reopening.
Pinocchio’s, which for three decades served up pizza, salad and breadsticks before its closure in 2002, will return in 2022 under its original owner Glenn Woods and business partner Michael Nash.
The original Pinocchio’s was on Elm Street with two other locations on Lindsey and West Robinson streets. It was a popular spot on game days for locals and visitors.
Woods said he once served 500 people in 30 minutes at his restaurant, which boasted recipes he got from his mother.
“I tweaked the recipes a bit, because I thought some things needed to be changed exactly to the way I liked it, and as it turns out, that was the way a lot of other people liked it too,” Woods said.
While the menu will be revised, patrons can still expect the classics.
Nash said opening 20 years after closure will require updates to the business model. He said an efficient takeout process for delivery services is key to the restaurant’s success.
Scott Martin, President and CEO of the Norman Chamber of Commerce, said the idea of Pinocchio’s coming back “is pretty exciting.”
“I’m sure there’s a lot of folks like myself that would enjoy an opportunity to go back and relive some of the memories from decades ago,” he said.