For decades, Ty Pennington has been using his carpentry skills to improve Americans' homes on Trading Spaces and Extreme Makeover. On his latest show, Small Business Revolution, he's hoping to better their lives and livelihoods: “What I love to be a part of is to help people who have been struggling,” Pennington, 56, tells PEOPLE.
Season 5 of Small Business Revolution focuses on locally-owned shops in Fredonia, N.Y., which won an online contest to receive Pennington and co-host Amanda Brinkman’s help. The pair arrived in early March ready to revitalize seven businesses. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“That's when everything changed,” Pennington says.
He and Brinkman offered business owners logo design options via video calls, talked through ways to communicate with customers about new protocols, and connected the entrepreneurs with industry experts virtually.
Deluxe Amanda Brinkman and Ty Pennington
“What was amazing is that you really saw people pull together in a community,” Pennington says. “Who would have guessed it would have taken a pandemic for people to really start to understand how important it is for small businesses to survive.”
The Life to the Extreme author urges consumers to use the upcoming holiday season as an opportunity to continue showing their support.
“Everyone knows that you can go to those big stores and you can order digitally; Just remember that this is the most important time to support small businesses,” Pennington says. “What we do over the holidays usually slopes them for the whole year. If we don't give them support, a lot of these businesses may not survive. Their lives are depending on our support.”
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Catch the season premiere of 'Trading Spaces' 3/16 on TLC.
Even after nearly two decades on television, Pennington still gets emotional about the often heart-wrenching stories of the people he works with.
“I changed my name to Cry Pennington” he jokes. "I want to be a part of projects where you restore belief that when things go horribly wrong in your life or your business or your family, someone's there to help you turn the page.”
Pennington opened up on Instagram in August about hitting a bump in his own life, when Extreme Makeover: Home Edition asked him to return for the reboot last year, but as a contractor rather than the host.
“I was confused,” the TV personality admits. “I was like, ‘I don't understand, did I not do a great job?’ I was doubting myself. But let's face it, things change. Now a year later, I've got my new show Ty Breaker coming out on HGTV, I've hosted Rock the Block, lots of different things, including building projects for myself as well. ‘Hang in there’ was my message. Things can change, and hopefully for the better.”
Bob D'Amico/Fred Watkins/ABC via Getty Ty Pennington with the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition crew.
Speaking of the upcoming Ty Breaker, Pennington teases, “there's going to be a lot of bleeps in this one, which is fun!”
“Unlike other shows where you offer, ‘Are you going to stay in this house when we fix it or are you going to move?’ I move in for a day or so and really get to know how they're living,” he explains. “Whether that's me shaving my face over their kids brushing their teeth or taking a shower in their basement bathroom. But the great news is, we really help people.”
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Pennington still managed to find time to dive into his own personal home renovation projects, too, as so many others have during the quarantine. “I still enjoy the process,” Pennington says. “I love building stuff, as big as a deck or small as a stool or an ottoman. There's the gratification that comes with building anything or doing anything yourself that I just love.”
Ultimately, Pennington hopes viewers recognize him as someone who keeps it real.
“Most people see me and they yell, ‘Please say it: Move that bus!’" he says of his Extreme Makeover catchphrase. “I'm hoping what people remember about me the most is that I'm genuine. I can go from completely crazy and out of my mind energetic to emotionally unstable in one sitting. I hope what people take away is that I'm as real as they come.”
Season 5 of Small Business Revolution is streaming now on Hulu and Amazon Prime.