Charleston tea cafe among latest closures announced as pandemic slows business

November 18, 2020

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By Nick Reagan

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – A Charleston small business announced plans to close its doors at the end of the month after struggling with a take-out only business model.

Tapio, a boba tea café, opened six years ago, started by Terry Hung and his wife.

“The location that we are at is just not made for just take out, and that’s what we decided to do because we are taking this very serious,” Hung said. “Our place is designed for gatherings, people coming in and just hanging out.”

Tapio is located just off King Street on the corner of Spring Street and Coming Street.

Like many small businesses downtown, Tapio relies on foot traffic to grow and maintain their customer base. The coronavirus has severely limited the number of people walking around.

“We are starting to notice downtown has become slower. We have lost a significant amount of business if we were to compare it to last year,” Hung said. “I definitively think we would still be in business if it was not for COVID.”

Hung says the closure did not have to be an option. He says they planned on staying open for years to come, but there just was not enough customers or relief to make it happen.

“Mom and pop shops are closing. They’re not getting much help,” Hung said. “I believe a bigger stimulus package from the federal government would help.”

Frank Knapp is the executive director of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. He says the economy needs additional help from Washington, especially the businesses who were not able to get assistance in the first round of benefits.

“We have been without it since the beginning of August. Both small businesses haven’t had any help and the unemployed haven’t had any help,” Knapp said. “We are going to be teetering on going deeper into a recession if small businesses can’t stay alive with additional help”

Hung says losing small businesses, like Tapio, represents a loss in culture.

“Let’s support small business. It may cost a little bit more but they are the ones making the connection. I think we proved that without little tea shop,” Hung said. “The love and support from our customers has made us very humble.”

Hung has taken a new job and is looking to the future. He says if he does decide to start another business, it will not be in food.

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