A Birmingham veterinarian shepherds his business through COVID-19 pandemic

Birmingham, Ala. — Veterinarian Jerome Williams considers himself lucky, even though COVID-19 created real challenges for his Red Mountain Animal Clinic.

“I was more fortunate than many businesses because we were able to stay open,” Dr. Williams said of the business he has owned for 45 years. “I never got to a point where I felt like we might not survive.”

But while veterinary clinics continued to operate as “essential” businesses during the COVID shutdown, they still experienced hardships because of the pandemic, he said.

There were physical changes at the clinic on Green Springs Highway to protect his 11 employees and his customers. There were added supplies. Importantly, there were a limited number of customers he could see every day — and during the early days of the outbreak, many people simply put off veterinary care anyway.

The combination of unplanned expenses and lower revenue strained Dr. Williams’ clinic, which provides general veterinary care for dogs and cats. But he received help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program and from the local BhamStrong emergency loan fund.

The local relief fund was among the programs launched through the city of Birmingham’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity to help businesses and workers impacted by the pandemic. The BhamStrong loan fund included $1.2 million approved by the City Council and an additional $1 million from area businesses. BhamStrong oversaw the public-private fund along with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and the Birmingham Business Resource Center. At least 85 local businesses received assistance.

Dr. Williams said the emergency programs were critical during an economic storm unlike anything business owners have experienced for generations.

“It gave me assurance that I could meet my obligations, and I think it really assured my employees,” Dr. Williams said. “It made my life a whole lot easier, and it was quite a relief for them.”

Dr. Williams, a Selma native, opened Red Mountain Animal Clinic in 1975, six years after receiving his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Tuskegee University.

In the decades since opening his business in Birmingham, Dr. Williams has given back to the community in many ways — educating the public through the “Ask the Pet Doctor” segment on Good Day Alabama at WBRC Fox 6; leading a program that serves fellow veterinarians and their staffs with substance abuse or mental health issues; raising money for scholarships; and serving on nonprofit boards.

He believes his extensive experience helped him anticipate, prepare for and survive the business issues created by COVID-19. “If I were a newer business, then it would have been a lot more challenging,” he said.

But federal and local assistance programs also helped; even the individual stimulus checks that helped his customers make ends meet were of benefit to his business.

Since the economy has reopened and the virus is better understood, Red Mountain Animal Clinic is operating more normally now. But COVID-19 still restricts the personal interactions that Dr. Williams believes are vital to small business owners everywhere. He looks forward to the day when masks and social distance no longer come between him and his customers.

“We’ll get back to normal,” Dr. Williams said. “It won’t stay like this forever.”

Red Mountain Animal Clinic is located at 2148 Green Springs Highway in Birmingham. Learn more at their website or Facebook page.

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