After several weeks of worrying about his family’s financial future, Rory Conforti turned to something he grew up on: the water.
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“I’ve been boating my entire life, ever since I can remember,” Conforti said.
So he figured out a way to turn something his family loved into a business.
Conforti began renting a family boat through an app called GetMyBoat, which is similar to Airbnb but for boats.
He says with more people seeking safer ways to have fun during the pandemic, it’s taken off.
Conforti's family now rents out three boats, often launching the watercraft in the Dunedin Causeway near their home in the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s been truly a blessing that I grew up on the water — I experienced all of this — because now I can take those skills and put it into something that can help our family,” he said.
Diandra Culver opened cupcake shop, Sweet Dee’s Cupcakery in Winter Garden, just a few months before the pandemic changed everything.
“This has always been a hobby for me,” she said. “Eventually it became that everything was canceled, so that’s where things got pretty scary.”
So Culver got creative, even making toilet paper-themed cupcakes to play into the extreme demand for that product.
“What can I do to bring those people in? Just anything to keep my dream,” Culver said of her efforts to keep her new business running.
Ultimately, she said it was community support that saved it.
“I have a few supporters that will come in and they’re just like, 'We didn’t need the cupcakes, but we just wanted to come visit and say hi and get a few just to come and support you and say thank you and we appreciate you,' ” Culver said.
“I knew everything was going to be all right because they were right by my side and supportive through the whole thing.”
Some businesses were not so lucky. Data from the Orlando Economic Partnership shows more than one in five Central Florida businesses remain closed.
But unemployment numbers continue to improve each month, back to just a few percentage points away from where they were pre-pandemic.
Demand for COVID-19 testing allowed Medek Health in Mount Dora to expand its workforce.
“Out of our small office here in Mount Dora, we ship out pallets and pallets and pallets and pallets and pallets of rapid tests,” Medek CEO Stan Van Meter said.
He expects Medek to continue to stay busy as other businesses resume in-person events while employing safety measures.
“People are still going to want some reassurance that it’s an OK space to be in,” Van Meter said.
He said demand for Medek’s ability to provide telehealth visits for doctors and patients, which soared during the pandemic, will keep his business growing.
“Telehealth is here to stay,” Van Meter said.
Meanwhile, Culver credits her staying power to a higher power.
“My trust is always in Him, and I knew that everything was going to be OK because it was in His plan,” Culver said.
Conforti said renting out boats allows his family to enjoy something they love while also giving them confidence in their financial future.
“Why do we go through hard times, why does this happen, why do bad things happen? Well, because it’s shaping you, it’s building you, it’s building your character,” he said.