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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many businesses were affected by lockdown orders that they thought would last weeks but now, in many places, have stretched into over half a year. These changes last well into the summer when most businesses benefit from robust tourism industries, but this year was markedly different. Instead, small businesses had to rely on innovation and get creative to prove resilient – and many did! Coming up with outdoor business ideas in their local areas, we saw six types of businesses move to the forefront in our pandemic era.

1. Drive-In Movie Theaters Made a Comeback

Movie theaters across the country began to shut down in mid-March with studios delaying tentpole movies for a year or more. However, many held out hope that the summer season could be salvaged because Warner Brothers and Christopher Nolan’s movie Tenet was poised to open on July 17. There was hope that a summer movie season could actually happen in 2020… But most theaters across the country are still closed or operating at reduced capacity. Drive-in movie theaters, meanwhile, had a surge of attendance in U.S. states because business owners could fill a parking lot without having to worry about violating social distance guidelines.

This proved to be a high demand activity, with drive-in theaters being used for movies, concerts, weddings, and the first drive-in book launch! What made this a great business idea was how it utilized both real estate and business know-how to bring back a business model that many people had discounted with the rise of multiplex theaters in the 1990s. Business owners used social media to promote events and began running both classic movies first-run features with independent distributors. This allowed people to get out of the house and provided a new business opportunity which brought back full-time and part-time employees to drive-ins.

2. Restaurant Seating Outside – or in the Parking Lot!

The restaurant industry was hit particularly hard at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and has been slow to recover due to social distancing guidelines and rollbacks on reopening. Although they are fastidiously adhering to cleaning and maintaining a safe environment for their employees and customers, indoor service is not allowed in many states so small business restaurants are utilizing their outdoor space to facilitate dining.

Patios, parking lots, and already specified outdoor dining areas have been really helpful to restaurants, allowing employees and patrons to maintain a six-foot distance away from each other and ensure social distancing guidelines are being followed. Due to some city guidelines, as well as space requirements, restaurants are offering seating options on the sidewalk and in parking lots. Although this has led to some safety issues in places like New York City, many small business restaurant owners are trying to make the most of their available space and provide a dining experience that encourages people to come back and spend money. Of course, pick up and delivery service for many restaurants is still available, and is the lowest risk for restaurants, their employees, and you.

3. Hair & Nail Salons Slowly Reopened

Being in close contact with others was out of the question at the start of the summer, but as states began to slowly reopen, we saw the resumption of some small business activities. Although many salons are still closed, some managed to innovate business opportunities that allow them to open in a boutique setting with a limited number of patrons.

Towards the end of the summer in Los Angeles County, nail salons began opening up for outdoor business. Nail techs were outside the small business wearing masks, gloves, and face shields with plexiglass between the tech and customer. This innovation allowed small business nail salons to stay open and provide a handmade service to customers while keeping safe.

4. Concerts Outside, Online, and at a Distance

Many artists have taken to YouTube and other online platforms to distribute past concerts for fans who are missing live events as a way to innovate and offer live music experiences. This allowed musicians to connect with fans and encourage e-commerce in other ways – through their online store, Amazon, or other means that would provide a lot of money and additional revenue to the artist. The performing arts have been one of the hardest sectors of the economy since the pandemic began since no one knows when live events with fans may not be able to resume for years with social distancing guidelines. Some artists have taken to side hustles like podcasting while also performing live streams within their online stores that they sell tickets to, making fans feel like they are at a concert in their living room.

Still, one of the big themes of this summer continues to be activities outside – and that includes music. Festivals have frequently been a key part of the music calendar for the summer, but COVID-19 guidelines worldwide still do not allow people to be grouped together in campgrounds, AirBnBs, and around stages. However, the pandemic changed that and Europe led the way with a drive-in concert in Denmark in May while a socially distanced concert in the U.K. shows what might be the future of live music.

5. Exercise Classes Have Migrated to Parks

Summer weather makes it a great time for exercising outside with runs and bike rides. Since the pandemic has forced many small exercise businesses to re-evaluate how they provide classes and instructions while following social distancing guidelines. Ensuring cleaning services only does so much, and with social distance guidelines, it made more sense (climate-dependent, of course) for many small businesses to instead move their exercise classes outside.

The move outside did have some savvy implications for the business idea as small business owners could utilize social media to market the classes while also broadcasting classes on their YouTube channel. Some small businesses even moved their exercise classes fully online, garnering additional marketing material from influencers who would tune in to their classes on social media. Although the businesses were not able to use their brick and mortar locations, the move outside or online for exercise classes allowed business owners to continue marketing their business during the pandemic.

6. Outdoor Summer Favorites Are Still Around…

Although many of the typical summer activities have been put on hold, some summer favorites have still been able to operate close to normal. Ice cream shops are still doing take out and families can sit (socially distant from others) in nearby parks while food trucks are a great alternative to indoor dining room service. These changes allow people to pick up food and spend time outdoors during the summer.

Small businesses have been focusing on ideas that utilize their marketing skills and bring back customers. With the immense changes to business due to COVID-19 guidelines in the United States, small business owners are looking to retain lucrative business that enables them to operate full-time and at the high-quality their customers expect. From content marketing to online business ideas that shift the initial small business plan, business owners are focused on ensuring their own business continues as a favorite part of the community.

The summer of 2020 has been unlike any other in recent memory. Many things that we have taken for granted, and are used to doing, are no longer accessible due to COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing. This has led many small businesses to focus on innovation and ensuring that they could still run a successful business during one of the most difficult economic periods in U.S. history. With innovative business ideas, high-quality weddings were performed at drive-in theaters, exercise focused on the outdoors, and restaurants found the best way to use their available space. Small businesses are proving that it is possible to have a profitable business in 2020, amidst the uncertainty of a global pandemic, by utilizing the best business ideas and focusing on innovation to find potential clients.

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