NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Haverhill small business owners adapt to challenges of 2020

Owning a small business has always been a lot to handle, and as with most things in the year of 2020, it’s now even more difficult.

The NECC Observer had a chance to speak with the owners of three prominent small businesses in the Haverhill: The Comic Book Palace, Wicked Big Cafe, and The Yoga Tree.

Owned by Glenn O’Leary, The Comic Book Palace is a small comic store that sells a variety of graphic novels, superhero comics, trading cards, sports cards, and collectibles. As of now, the store is open Wednesday through Saturday, and according to O’Leary, maintaining the store has gotten easier since the lockdown.

“In business, everyday, there’s something popping up that makes you have to change and react from time to time, and that was a huge thing for everybody. Unfortunately though, some people couldn’t come back from it. I was fortunate that I have a great group of customers that have supported me through the shutdown, and even after the shutdown.” says O’Leary, when asked about the pandemic/lockdown being an obstacle vs being an adjustment since March.

O’Leary has also taken the steps needed to ensure the safety of his customers.

That means, keeping the store clean, washing bookshelves, and of course, requiring everyone to wear a mask at all times.

I asked O’Leary about this part of owning the store in a time like this, “Before I even reopened, I took books off of the shelves, I washed down the shelves, I washed the backs of shelves, which you never even think of washing because they’re always full with something.” he said.

The Comic Book Palace has also received lots of support throughout the pandemic, “When we were first shutdown, I had bunch of customers come in and just buy gift certificates.” says O’Leary. The Comic Book Palace is located at 620 Primrose Street in Haverhill.

Wicked Big Cafe is a coffee shop in Downtown Haverhill. Owned by Mohamed Machkour, it serves lots of pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and a wide variety of hot drinks and cold drinks.

When asked about the difficulties of the pandemic, Machkour pointed out that the shutdown was a “messy interruption to the business” and that “there aren’t enough customers and sales to sustain the business but even the loyal customers’ buying power has diminished due to the stagnant economy.”

Employees wearing a mask and gloves, and customers wearing masks, have been a must for places like this. Machkour pointed out, “We also installed glass barriers between us the customers.”

The city of Haverhill has been very supportive in terms of restaurants and places like Wicked Big Cafe, “The Mayor also was helpful by pushing the outside dining and provided the barricades to extend the sidewalks.” Wicked Big Cafe is located at 19 Essex Street in Haverhill.

The Yoga Tree is a yoga studio in downtown Haverhill. Owned by Ally Vallieres, it offers a wide variety of yoga classes daily, as well as workshops like prenatal yoga, and yoga nidra classes.

During the shutdown, Ally and the other yoga teachers at the studio moved all classes and activities online, and it was working out very well at the time.

However, at this point, when most businesses (including The Yoga Tree) are open in person, the pandemic has taken its toll. “It’s definitely an adjustment. We have had to turn our entire business model around since Covid happened, and it’s actually gotten harder as the time has gone on, because of the limitations that have been placed on the studio, to follow the state guidelines.” says Vallieres when asked about the difficulties of the pandemic that the studio has faced.

The Yoga Tree has had to cut down its capacity per class from 40 people to 9 people. Vallieres has done a terrific job ensuring the safety of both her yoga students, and teachers. When asked about this, she said, “We’ve installed plastic barriers between spots that are spaced less than fourteen feet apart, and all of our spots are spaced at least six feet apart… We require Covid-19 screenings before anyone even steps foot into the studio, our teachers do a Covid-19 screening, and they also get a temperature check before they step into the studio. Our cleaning protocols have enhanced hugely, and we are doing a full cleaning of the studio, in between every single class that happens.”

Like others, The Yoga Tree is a business that has received lots of support throughout the pandemic.

When asked what the most helpful support has been throughout the pandemic, Vallieres said. “For me, the most important thing has been the amount of our students and our teacher who have just reached out letting us know that we’re doing a good job and that they feel safe here… I think the hardest part of this has been the mental and emotional toll that its taken on everyone, from our staff to our clients, and in addition to the business aspect of things, the amount of emotional support that I’ve seen in the community has been tremendous, and has meant the world to me.” The Yoga Tree is located at 90 Washington Street in Haverhill.

The Comic Book Palace can be found on Facebook, The Yoga Tree can be found on, and Wicked Big Cafe can be found on

These three businesses have been amazing to their customers throughout the pandemic, and now it’s time to give back.