The War Between COVID and Small Business
By: Kiana Spearman
Photos: Kiana Spearman, CNBC, Pixabay
“With the ever-pressing restrictions and ongoing quarantine, small businesses are facing a war.”
When shutdowns started and business implemented their procedures to ensure safer environments for their customers, the public had to start changing their routines and their methods when it came to shopping for themselves or their families. Masks have to worn, business hours had to change and even the number of people allowed in a store had to be taken into account. Within the stores, there have been signs posted on limits of what people could purchase per shopper to ensure that not only their stock would run out faster than they could shelve items but that the families and individual shoppers that come in have the opportunity to get what they need while they quarantine
When the quarantine went into effect, several non-essential businesses had to close like clothing and shoe stores, bars, fitness centers, and nail salons. While those businesses closed and some had the means to still be open in times like this, the small businesses that didn’t operate on the same scale as the bigger, corporate businesses had to close and make do. With some of these businesses being their only means of income, having to close down cost them a lot. Now, almost to the end of this year, small businesses are fighting to stay open with what little customers come and go but they’re struggling. According to an article written by Alicia Adamczyk for CNBC, “small businesses have to pivot to keep their businesses alive in a new world in which none of the old rules apply.” These businesses had prepared themselves for just a few weeks of financial hardship when the shutdowns first started but as time went on and the quarantine became more rigid, their hardships began to turn into full-blown crises.
“Small businesses have to pivot to keep their businesses alive in a new world in which none of the old rules apply.”
Adamczyk says that “These entrepreneurs face not only the quotidian stresses of living through a global pandemic, they also are grappling with ever-changing health and safety standards.” With the lessened foot traffic, having to spend the money to transform their place of business into a COVID-friendly environment with what little money their bringing in brings a new layer of financial stress onto their plate. Adamczyk spoke with a small business owner from Raleigh, NC, Joy Currey who is an executive of a nonprofit that works with at-risk juvenile girls, that said that he lack of guidance from the government when it comes to the guidelines and safety protocols puts a strain on a small business owner’s time that they could be spending on coming up with a plan to keep them afloat and financially stable.
Another piece by Justin Lahart from the Wall Street Journal said that while small business have been in a long and on-going battle with corporate businesses, “nothing has diminished their stature like the Covid-19 crisis.” Small businesses have already been under a financial strain before the pandemic happened because their shops might not have been as well-known as some popular brands and businesses that have made names for themselves but when the pandemic hit, their financial strain grew and hit harder. He said that “Small-business transaction data collected by software and business-services provider Womply show that about 1 in 5 businesses that were open in January have stopped transacting entirely.” Fighting through the strain and tough times brought on by quarantine and business restrictions made things harder than necessary for these businesses when it came to their daily operations which didn’t give them much choice when it came to staying open or not.
Now, many small businesses were able to open back up but were reduced to limited capacity or on the downside, had to remain closed and figure out different means to continue business if they could. Here in Virginia, there are a number of small businesses throughout the state, online and in-person, that are navigating the way through financial strain but are attempting to make it work. In Occoquan, VA, a small strip of businesses located in what is called Historic Occoquan are feeling the pressures of the pandemic’s effect on their daily operations. The food businesses have taken into procedures of all restaurants with the number of people they can let in as well as the sanitary measures they’ve implemented to keep themselves and the customers safe.
With businesses of other categories, like art or skincare products, their operations have to fall under a slightly different flow and have undergone a different type of strain. While people will brave the world and venture out to eat at restaurants or even order online, they still have business but for the art gallery, Art A La Carte, things are much different. Carmen, a jewelry artist and local to Springfield, works in the gallery and informed me that the gallery consists of a collaboration of 20 other artists from different medias. She says that the pandemic has affected them quite a bit with people not buying art and before the pandemic, they were doing well for themselves especially during this time with holiday sales. When the lockdown started, she said they had to close down right away because “with so many customers, it just made sense to close down, it was easier.” They opened back up in mid-June and started implementing safety produces of making masks mandatory, limiting the number of people that could be in the gallery, and offering hand sanitizer at the register.
Personally, Carmen said that the pandemic has personally been financially hard, “there’s a big anxiety and angst coming with it of how things are gonna be and we might have to permanently close.” She said that people were going to have to leave if they stayed close and still have to pay rent since their financial responsibilities when it comes to the building and space they rent out still stand even if they have no business. While she and a few others have worked in the store, with the pandemic still going on there are artists that no longer want to work in a time like this and the gallery isn’t going to force them to. They were in communications with the artists through emails and zoom meetings about the state of the gallery and try to make the best of things but as an art gallery, they are considered non-essential. They are trying to make ends meet with what little manpower they have and with what few artists are willing to work under these conditions but like so many shops that have had to closed their door permanently with the pandemic and restrictions going on, things don’t look bright in Art A La Carte’s future.
Another shop in Historic Occoquan, Touch of Nature, actually opened up during the quarantine. One of the employees stated that opening after the pandemic that business was doing well. She said that before working at Touch of Nature, she worked as a nanny and did housekeeping jobs and continues to do so while working at the shop. With everyone having to take care of being safe during all their restrictions, she said they have to “clean the handle every time someone comes in, provide hand sanitizer for customers a the register and wipe down the store before opening and after closing.” The shop works under the similar routine of a typical retail store, either standalone or in places like the mall with conducting the wipe-downs and have the screenings over the register, separating the customers from the employees.
The Touch of Nature employee said that the shop usually sees return customers who just “come in and know what they want, not touching and looking through products. They come in, grab want they want, pay and then leave.” She said with new customers, while they aren’t touching around the products in the shop, they will look around more than the regular customer would.
With the ever-pressing restrictions and ongoing quarantine, small businesses are facing a war. These small businesses have had to endure a mountain of stress and financial burden during this time and have had to change their means of operation from limiting customer capacity in the store and to opening up online services to make ends meet. Staying open and enduring hostile customers over closing and finding different means to operate both provide pros and cons of a means of operation, neither of which follow the old rules of times of people fondly remember. Times are tough for all businesses but the small businesses have to make the decision of what they want to do going forward and their decisions not only affect them as an individual and a business owner but also will affect their employees and their customers. The times are changing but whether it’s for the better or not is still yet to be seen.