For most small business owners and sole proprietors, the economic fallout from the pandemic was hellish.

CNN Business profiled a number of them over the past year and a half, and checked back with a few to see how they are faring today.

He’s cautiously optimistic, despite a debt hangover

GYM Sportsbar owner Rick Schmutzler was doing quite well before the pandemic, running three successful, profitable gay sports bars in New York, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles.

“My business was solidly profitable for 15 years. I didn’t owe a penny to anybody,” Schmutzler said.

But today he is down to two locations, and is carrying more than $600,000 in debt thanks to back rent, an economic disaster loan from the Small Business Administration and a New York small business loan.

And all that is after having gotten two Paycheck Protection Program loans for each location – which he described as “lifesavers” and which he expects to be fully forgiven.

“These past 16 months have been a lot. … As the founder of the business, I am the head cheerleader. So while I was trying to keep a really public positive face, there were a few times I wasn’t sure all three of the businesses would survive. Or any of them,” Schmutzler said.

He ended up shuttering his Los Angeles bar because he couldn’t come to a deal on rent with his landlord.

His Fort Lauderdale bar fared best, primarily because it had lower operating expenses and a kitchen that allowed it to stay open as a restaurant. Plus, Florida was one of the first states to relax pandemic restrictions. And it was the only branch for which he got a grant from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

His New York location, meanwhile, remained closed for all but two months between March 2020 and this spring, when it fully reopened again. Under the city’s rules last fall, customers ordering a drink also had to order food. The bar doesn’t have a formal kitchen so in order to operate in October and November, it started offering three menu items – a hot dog, a big ballpark pretzel or chips with melted cheese. “It was very strange,” Schmutzler said.

He had to shutter the Gotham location again in the winter because of a spike in New York’s Covid cases. His second PPP loan for that location came through just as he was about to reopen this spring. “It allowed me to start breathing again,” Schmutzler said.

Despite all that he’s been through, he noted, “We’ve survived and are cautiously optimistic.”

He expects June 2021 will be his first profitable month since before the pandemic. Customers celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month helped lift his finances and his spirits.

Now, though, Schmutzler wonders how his New York bar, which thrived as an after-work happy hour bar, will fare as fewer people commute to offices five days a week.

“No one is sure what Midtown will look like,” he said. In the meantime, he added, business is picking up with amateur sports leagues starting up again and New Yorkers eager to get out of their apartments after work.

Working remotely has been good for his business

Audio engineer Stephen Morrison expects his music and podcasting work will grow since clients are now comfortable working remotely.

Freelance audio engineer Stephen Morrison lost most of his business overnight as the pandemic forced the Atlanta music studios where he worked to shut down.

Morrison immediately applied for any kind of financial assistance he could get, eventually securing food stamps, unemployment benefits and a $5,000 economic injury disaster grant from the SBA.

Every bit helped, he said. But now that his unemployment and food stamp benefits have stopped – in part because of Georgia’s decision to end federally subsidized jobless benefits earlier than expected – he is still struggling financially and has to figure out how to pay off the $5,000 to $10,000 in credit card debt he accrued trying to make ends meet over the past year.

“It’s definitely a concern. I don’t have an answer to say ‘I got this,’” Morrison said. “I always find a way to be fine. But on paper it doesn’t look fine.”

The good news is that he is getting more work, and primarily doing it from his home studio. “I’m probably making 60% of what I’m used to making. It’s still not booming. But it’s going up very fast.”

He’s also getting new types of clients. He used to work exclusively with professional musicians and podcasters. But now he’s also getting work from amateurs who used the time during the pandemic to try their hand at making music and creating podcasts.

“I’m very optimistic. It’s only a matter of time when we’ll be back to where we were and even farther,” Morrison said, noting that people are more open now to doing things remotely. “As a service provider, that doesn’t hurt me. That helps me.”

Her business is now stronger than ever

Massage therapist Rebecca Jackoboice will expand her client base when she and her family move to Ohio this summer.

Given the high levels of stress people have been under, it is not entirely surprising that in-home clinical massage therapist Rebecca Jackoboice has seen a resurgence in her business after shuttering it in the spring of 2020.

Back then, Jackoboice, who is based in Chicago, told CNN Business she was in the process of trying to secure federal assistance and was living off personal savings in the meantime. Her husband, also a massage therapist who had lost his job at a chiropractic clinic that also closed down, decided to take a low-wage job as a supervisor at a friend’s company.

Jackoboice said she finally secured unemployment benefits, which she collected for three months, as well as a small PPP loan, which she expects will be forgiven.

Both helped keep her solvent and replenish the savings she’d used once she resumed working in June. “It wasn’t a complete replacement of my income by a long shot, but it certainly took the edge of worry off. And because 2020 was basically ‘the year of not doing much,’ the forced lower budget allowed us to replenish our savings account,” she said.

Initially, she only resumed working with a few clients, while getting comfortable with her new Covid policies, which required clients to wear masks and to provide their own sheets and massage table in their homes.

Today, she said, she is still taking Covid precautions but “my business is back at normal, or maybe even better than normal.”

And it’s likely to expand. Jackoboice is moving this summer to her native Ohio with her husband and their soon-to-be 4-year-old son.

Ohio is more affordable than Chicago and their plan is to buy their first home and be near family. She also plans to build a new client base and return to Chicago every month to work with her existing clients. Her husband, who is now earning more, will continue doing his current job remotely.

“We’re fortunate this is an option we have,” Jackoboice said. “Covid changed a lot of people’s perspectives on what is important. We [decided we] want our own home.”