Coronavirus forces business owners to make difficult decisions

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to change the everyday lives of people everywhere, local business owners are faced with difficult decisions as they work to keep their customers and employees.

Some retail stores and locally owned shops have already made the decision to close their doors until the coronavirus runs its course; however, many of those have their products available for purchase online.

Restaurants were hit last week with an public health order by the governor to close dine-in areas. But, many restaurants are still available to serve through carry-out and drive-through options.

Demopolis businessowner Jason Windham operates a restaurant, Batter Up, Holiday Cleaners, a dry cleaning business, as well as a laundry-mat, Suds.

“My biggest concern came after the governor’s mandate (to close restaurant dining rooms), but we are doing what we can to make it work,” Windham said. “We’ve seen a drop (at Batter Up), but so far it’s been better than I anticipated.”

At his dry-cleaning company, he said there has been consistent work but that he has gone from running only three of his five machines this week. “There’s just not enough volume to sustain our regular pace,” he said.

For now, that means a decrease of hours for his employees. “My employees just got paid last week, so they aren’t feeling the effects of all this yet.We’re only five days into this. Next month is when it’s going to get hard if can’t get back to some form of normalcy.”

Federal and state officials are working on plans to assist small businesses through the coronavirus crisis. Governor Kay Ivey announced March 21 that small businesses impacted by the pandemic are eligible for assistance under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.

“Small businesses represent the backbone of Alabama’s economy, and many of them need immediate help in these trying times,” Ivey said.

For more information, visit SBA’s COVID-19 disaster assistance web page.

Ivy Lowe, co-owner of Nancy & Company Fine Jewelers, is among those who are closing, although she will take appointments. She said most of their suppliers have already closed.

“We’re not sure when we’ll open back up,” Cole said.

Another business forced to close was Renu Massage Therapy. “It was definitely a difficult decision,” said owner Yvonne Walker. “As a massage therapist, I’m definitely in my customers’ personal space. I tried to think of ways I could stay open, but I can’t risk my health or the health of my customers.”

As a self-employed worker, Walker struggles with how she will make ends meet if she can’t get back to work soon.

“I won’t qualify for unemployment or have access to small business loans. I’m constantly thinking about ways I might bring in some type of income,” she said.

It is uncertainty of when things will return to normal that concerns Walker the most.

“It’s extremely hard to stay hopeful,” she said. “But, I think about the fact that I’m not the only one going through this and there are others who may have it much worse. Everyone is having to deal with this, not just me.”

Through the issues facing his business, Windham said he seen the best from his employees and the community.

“Demopolis has been fantastic in passing along information and sharing things on social media. I have employees with two jobs who have offered their hours to those who rely solely on their income here.

“It’s not business as usual, but we are thankful for the business we do have,” Windham said.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, March 25 issue of the Demopolis Times.