About Webb Weekly

Webb Weekly is a family-oriented newspaper direct mailed to over 58,000 homes each week.

Webb Weekly

280 Kane St. STE #2
South Williamsport, PA
United States

Phone & Fax

Phone: 570-326-9322
Fax: 570-326-9383

Get In Touch With Us

Latest Posts

Latest Issue


This Week’s LION: Surviving the Storm — Williamsport’s Backhouse Cafe

The forced quarantine in Pennsylvania was designed to save lives, but it has taken a very tough toll on two particular groups; school students and small business owners and their employees. Students are young and will undoubtedly rebound one way or another, but many predictions point toward many small business owners going belly up, causing

The forced quarantine in Pennsylvania was designed to save lives, but it has taken a very tough toll on two particular groups; school students and small business owners and their employees. Students are young and will undoubtedly rebound one way or another, but many predictions point toward many small business owners going belly up, causing unemployment and fewer services to the community.

It is not hard to imagine why. The dream of being “your own boss” is infinitely more difficult than the average person could ever imagine. There is usually an enormous upfront cost in investment, and once operations begin, it is critical to offer a quality product or service at a reasonable cost. The next challenge is to build a customer base as soon as possible to turn a profit to pay back investors. An enterprise must have a great product and service, a strong customer base, and secure financial resources to draw upon to survive. This is why nationally, twenty percent of all small businesses fail in their first year, and over half within five years.

So, what happens when an emergency quarantine is thrown in the mix? To look at an example of the trials and tribulations that small businesses now face, I took a look at my favorite interview location, Backhouse Cafe Coffee and Tea, located at 901 W. Fourth Street in Williamsport, directly across the street from the Taber Museum.

Ron and June Wright bought a beautiful 19th-century Victorian mansion in October of 2016, which became their home. Then they poured themselves into converting the downstairs into a gorgeous coffee shop and cafe, which they were able to open in August of 2018. With stylish private rooms, a quiet and relaxing atmosphere, excellent specialty teas and coffees, and delicious locally-baked pastries, they soon became a popular destination for locals and tourists. With a 20 percent growth rate, they were well on their way to establishing themselves as a successful business.

But then came the COVID quarantine, and Ron and June were hit hard. When customers would sit in the cafe, they gave them real ceramic cups, but now they had to increase their paper product usage (which increased expenses) since they were only allowed take-out. With Penn College shutdown and the rest of the downtown like a ghost town, they lost their foot traffic. Also, they had been a popular spot for events such as bridal showers, but these also had to go by the wayside. All of this led to a severe decrease in business, which forced them to let go of their three part-time employees. And if all this was not bad enough, many of their regulars assumed they were not open, which also impacted their sales.

Since the “Yellow” flag has gone up, Ron and June have seen a pickup in business, with a particularly good day coming on their recent wedding anniversary. It popped up on Facebook, and suddenly Backhouse Cafe had a four-fold increase in business that day! They are still recovering but have faith that they will successfully rebound. In fact, faith is what has kept them going since they first started their business. They had originally wanted to locate in the heart of downtown, but circumstances did not work out, which led to buying the mansion and using that to double as their cafe. They saw God’s hand in this as they realize now that if they had to pay rent, they would not still be in business. Further, when the loan programs came out, June especially felt that they should not apply but rather trust the Lord to see them through.

This small establishment has a good business model with excellent product and service and has streamlined to the bare bone to make ends meet. The future will depend on customers coming back, and in this sense, Backhouse Cafe has a great head start. June has noted that their customer support has been overwhelming, and she attributes much of this to the attitude they take toward those who walk through their doors, treating people more like guests than customers. Ron echoes this attitude with his favorite passage from the Bible, Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” When he is serving customers, he asks himself, “What can I do to make this person’s day better?”

Many small businesses will probably not come out of the COVID Crisis at all; some will come out bruised and battered, but still alive. No one can predict with absolute certainty, but for my coffee, my money is on the future of places like Backhouse Cafe.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply