When COVID-19 shutdowns began last year, college students were sent home and tourists largely vanished. A place like Harvard Square depends on both, so it wasn't surprising that local businesses owners were nervous. But more than a year later, out of 291 pre-pandemic businesses, roughly 85% managed to stay open, according to the Harvard Square Business Association

The "overwhelming majority" of landlords were willing to negotiate rents, said Denise Jillson, the association's executive director. And the majority of businesses in Harvard Square are locally owned, so they were able to stay “nimble and flexible, and they were creative,” she added.

When shutdowns began, Manny Ramirez, co-owner of “Black Sheep Bagels,” changed his business to a slimmed down "grab and go" menu.

“We decided to hunker down and stay open and try to navigate through COVID, [and] keep our staff entirely, which we successfully did,” he said. “ And the first two months were pretty crazy, pretty chaotic, and you know, it balanced through.”

Ramirez and his wife Shoshanah Garber kept the business afloat. And when an empty retail space opened up a few months into the pandemic, Ramirez said they looked into the future and knew they had to grab the opportunity. Several months ago they opened ”Black Sheep Market” — a store in Cambridgeport that focuses on local food items.

But businesses like salons — which were shut down for several months and then tightly restricted — had a much tougher time adapting. Just upstairs from Ramirez' Harvard Square bagel shop, “Le Petit Salon Curl Concept,” owner Teo Sorce had to let go staff. During the shutdown, she mixed hair color for customers to use at home but it wasn't enough to keep her out of debt. Still, she’s determined to build back up.

“Just try to survive,” she said, “Nothing I can do [but] defer all the those bills.”