ORLANDO, Fla. — In a big election year, small business owners will be voting with one big issue in mind: their bottom line.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that inflation remains the top concern for small business owners, despite inflation rates beginning to trend downward.

What You Need To Know

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports inflation remains the top concern for small business owners, despite inflation rates beginning to trend downward

  • Quay Hu set up his own photography studio, and later coffee shop, Qreate Coffee, in 2019

  • He says his business costs skyrocketed after the COVID-19 pandemic started

  • While they have leveled off, he said he fears they will never return to pre-pandemic prices

Quay Hu set up his own photography studio in 2019, after he decided professional photos for his family were too expensive.

“I thought I could do it myself, so I went and bought my own camera,” said Hu.

His love of photography might only be matched by his love of coffee. Just before the pandemic hit, Hu decided to expand his photography studio to include a coffee shop, Qreate Coffee.  

“Come here, get some coffee, talk through the concept of the shoot, take the shoot, sit back down and look at all the images and take it from there,” he said.

But a few months after opening his shop, the pandemic started, and after that, prices for everything skyrocketed. Hu said an order of 1,000 coffee cups went from $30 to $120.

“Now they’re back down to roughly $80 per a thousand," he said. "They never went back down to pre-pandemic prices."

But Hu doesn’t want to price out his base of loyal customers.

“You don’t want to increase prices so high that consumers can’t buy or enjoy your product, so personally I’ve taken a lower cut,” he said.

And that lower cut means Hu’s taking home less money to his family, which has led to some tough choices.

“I’m consistently telling the girls we can’t do this or we can’t do that,” said Hu.

Hu is constantly shopping for cheaper prices for goods and supplies. He says most prices aren’t still rising, and luckily now leveling off. But he worries those prices will never go back down to what they were.

“It’s definitely a lot of value engineering where I have to look for products that are just as well, just as high quality,” said Hu.

Hu said during this election year, he’ll be looking for candidates who are pledging more support for small business owners.

“If they’re pushing tax breaks or certain grants for us businesses to stay afloat, yeah, that’s a huge consideration for me as a business owner,” he said.

Hu said $18,000 in Paycheck Protection Program money during the pandemic helped out. But that money’s long gone, and with some small businesses continuing to struggle to keep good workers and pay them increasing wages, he says more help is needed.

“Are we going to continue to take a hit on the actual labor costs and make less money?" he said. "Or how far can we do that where we’re not going to make it and it’s not worth keeping the business open?"