COVID-19

How small businesses are bracing for a COVID winter — or not

Erika Beras Nov 16, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A bar in Manhattan sells to-go cocktails at the beginning of the pandemic. Small businesses are preparing for another round of lockdowns, as the virus continues to surge across the country. Victor J. Blue/Getty Images
COVID-19

How small businesses are bracing for a COVID winter — or not

Erika Beras Nov 16, 2020
A bar in Manhattan sells to-go cocktails at the beginning of the pandemic. Small businesses are preparing for another round of lockdowns, as the virus continues to surge across the country. Victor J. Blue/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Some cities and states are entering new lockdowns and new stay-at-home orders as COVID-19 spread at a rate of roughly more than a 100,000 new cases each day over the past week.

In Chicago and statewide in Washington, Oregon and New Mexico, small businesses are bracing for them.

Back in the spring, weekslong shutdowns dealt an initial blow. When things shut down then, the Stampede Cocktail Club in Seattle, Washington, got a Paycheck Protection Program loan, held a GoFundMe fundraiser to help support employees, scaled back days and hours, and sold gift cards, merchandise and to-go drinks.

“I always joke around that we’ve pivoted so much that our hips hurt,” said Cera Grindstaff, general manager of Stampede Cocktail Club. She said business revenue is down 75%.  

“I think it’s a different ballgame,” she said of the coming lockdown. “We didn’t know what we were going into this first time. So it was kind of like, ‘Oh a pandemic,’ but now it’s like, ‘This is a pandemic.'”

And more than half a year later, many people have been struggling for months, said Matthew Slaughter, an economist at Dartmouth College. 

“Unfortunately, more customers and clients are more stressed financially because of the absence of the federal government support that have rolled off,” he said.

That worries Wendelin Scott, who owns YogaSource in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When things shut down the first time, she had two locations.

“It was pretty stressful — the psychological and emotional stress that everybody was under,” she said. “And then the intense learning curve to get everybody online.”

Then, in June, she shut down one of her studios. Now, most of her classes are online, but she’s just breaking even. She hopes her remaining brick-and-mortar studio will survive the winter. 

In Chicago, Candice Cowles owns hair salon ComeCeCeMe where she makes custom wigs and weaves for her clients. She hopes she’s prepared.  

Before the pandemic, clients would bring her hair bundles and she’d style them in shop. Now, Cowles buys the hair, styles it, sends it to customers and then virtually walks them through how to do it themselves. “We don’t even have to touch each other, see each other, anything,” she said. “So now, actually, the profits are higher.”

Cowles is optimistic, but her business depends on clients with disposable income — and how they weather the COVID-19 winter. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Pfizer said early data show its coronavirus vaccine is effective. So what’s next?

In the last few months, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have shared other details of the process including trial blueprints, the breakdown of the subjects and ethnicities and whether they’re taking money from the government. They’re being especially transparent in order to try to temper public skepticism about this vaccine process. The next big test, said Jennifer Miller at the Yale School of Medicine, comes when drug companies release their data, “so that other scientists who the public trust can go in, replicate findings, and communicate them to the public. And hopefully build appropriate trust in a vaccine.”

How is President-elect Joe Biden planning to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic turmoil it’s created?

On Nov. 9, President-Elect Joe Biden announced three co-chairs of his new COVID-19 task force. But what kind of effect might this task force have during this transition time, before Biden takes office? “The transition team can do a lot to amplify and reinforce the messages of scientists and public health experts,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director for the Immunization Action Coalition. Moore said Biden’s COVID task force can also “start talking to state leaders and other experts about exactly what they need to equip them to roll out the vaccines effectively.”

What does slower retail sales growth in October mean for the economy?

It is a truism that we repeat time and again at Marketplace: As goes the U.S. consumer, so goes the U.S. economy. And recently, we’ve been seeing plenty of signs of weakness in the consumer economy. Retail sales were up three-tenths of a percent in October, but the gain was weaker than expected and much weaker than September’s. John Leer, an economist at Morning Consult, said a lack of new fiscal stimulus from Congress is dampening consumers’ appetite to spend. So is the pandemic.

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