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COVID-19

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

Erika Beras Nov 16, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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