The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many military families. Army Veteran Nicole Walcott and her new business were significantly impacted during this time.
For the past three years, Army veteran Nicole Walcott has been building up her alternative health and wellness business in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The business was born due to a back injury she endured after a Humvee accident as a specialist, while stationed in South Korea. She and her husband, Joshua, had met in basic training, and both were in Korea when the accident occurred. They eventually were stationed in Fayetteville, where both were honorably discharged as service-disabled veterans in 2014.
Joshua became a police officer and Nicole began working in economics, which was her background before entering the service. But after having her two children, she learned that she had degenerative arthritis in her spine, likely the result of the accident. She lived daily with debilitating pain.
She was at a retreat to get yoga teacher certification for first responders when she discovered float therapy.
“I got out of the tank and I told one of the officers who had come with me for the certification ‘I literally was like I have to get this back to Fayetteville. I did research and there was nothing within 90 miles of us and my business brain turns on. As quickly as I could, I got together some of my own capital, I found a private investor and we opened our doors in December of 2017.”
Called Shanti Wellness, Nicole’s business paid for 90 percent of the family’s bills. She was expanding with military contracts and she and her partners planned on adding cryotherapy. But in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused shut-downs of businesses nationwide, especially service-related ones like Shanti Wellness, Nicole’s family was left without the majority of their income.
”Things like this you can’t see coming,” Nicole said. “You can’t prepare for this. We aren’t even three years old. I told my husband I could understand a 30 percent revenue but we were at a 95% revenue drop overnight. It was insane, I couldn’t believe it.”
She read about Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) program during a search for grants and loans to help businesses and veterans. She applied for assistance in both April and May. Thanks to generous donors, Operation Homefront was able to help Nicole pay more than $2,100 for food assistance, utilities, and car payments in April. In May, her family received $1,400 for rent assistance.
“We were so thankful because now that those bills were taken care of for April, we didn’t have to worry about how we would pay all these other business bills,” she said. “That’s one of the problems. There’s help for individuals and personal bills, nothing for businesses and business bills and we still have all of that to pay for. Honestly, (Operation Homefront) was the biggest help to us. It was a huge financial burden lifted.”
Nicole said she was worried about being able to keep the utilities on for her business to be able to open in June, if restrictions were lifted. Not having the business is not just a financial burden, but there are all those clients who will be without their pain relief.
The fact that she was able to get the help in funding she needed, spurred her and other small business owners to start a GoFundMe account for owners who could not get help. So far, they have helped raise $500 for two owners. The goal is to make sure all Fayetteville businesses have a shot of staying open, something she sees could be a ripple effect stemming from Operation Homefront helping her business.
“If we survive that’s fantastic,” Nicole said. “But it’s going to be a long road. If we’re the only business standing downtown, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has to make it.”