By Cory L. Higgs
As officials discuss sheltering in place and extending social distancing protocols into late spring and early summer, many businesses are starting to feel the burden of the empty streets.
The ordinarily bustling Main Street in Stuart now looks like a scene from a Steven King movie, empty, derelict, and devoid of human activity. Unlike a King movie, this isn’t a post-apocalyptic scene, rather a precaution to avoid one.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam limited the gathering of more than 10 people in hopes of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and avoiding a catastrophic burden of overflowing the Commonwealth’s medical capabilities.
“In accordance with advice from state public health experts, I have also taken several steps to protect the health and well-being of the community, which align with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recommendations to slow the spread of the virus,” Northam said. “A state-wide ban on gatherings of 10 people or more at restaurants, fitness centers, and theaters, as well as a state-wide recommendation limiting gatherings of 10 people or more at all other non-essential sites, has resulted in many closures, negatively affecting small businesses throughout the Commonwealth.”
Northam requested that the U.S Small Business Administration to “implement a Small Business Administrative declaration to provide assistance in the form of SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans” for various counties across Virginia, from Jan. 31 forward. The list of counties included Patrick, Henry, Carroll, Floyd, Franklin, and more, along with cities like Martinsville, Galax, and Danville.
The governor reported that the “Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity conducted a survey of these affected businesses to determine the economic impact of their losses for the disaster period as compared to the same period in the preceding year.”
The department received thousands of responses from small businesses from around the state. Northam said he has personally verified five of the impacted business and found that they had suffered a “substantial economic injury as a result of the disaster, and are in need of financial assistance not otherwise available on reasonable terms.”
Northam reported on March 19 that the request to the SBA had been approved.
Patrick County businesses are no stranger to the burdens brought on by the virus. The effects do not discriminate. Restaurants to gas stations and retail stores are all feeling the impact in their bottom line.
Sadie Ayers, owner and operator of Main Street’s newest business Leonardo’s Pizzeria & Bistro said, “there has definitely been a major decline in sales. This week alone, I have not had to not have my waitresses work because there has been little inside dining.”
In a social media post, Ayers said that while her business can move to carry-out during these times, her concern is for her waitresses, whose jobs would become impractical with a carry-out only service. Ayers said she hopes the virus is short-lived and “all will go back to normal.”
Wren Williams, of Schneider & Williams, P.C., said that the legal world doesn’t stop for a virus, but it does change. Courts in the commonwealth have closed all operations that are non-emergency related, according to Williams. Bond hearings and protective orders are going forward, but civil matters and traffic cases have all been continued, he said.
Williams said his office isn’t seeing the normal amount of in person traffic, but their phone calls have picked-up. “We’re doing most of our work via telephone and email. We usually keep our surfaces wiped down, but we’ve increased the frequency to minimize the germs. Older clients that may actually have to come to the office for real estate closings have worn masks and we’ve minimized the person to person contact,” said Williams.
Felicia Shelor, proprietor of Poor Farmer’s Market in Meadows of Dan, said that she has seen an impact in her stores.
Business is “off” from its normal levels, however she is stocking up on grocery items and increasing her produce inventory to better serve the community “because people have to eat.” Shelor said that to do her part in suppressing the virus, she is offering curbside service, take out and free delivery to the sick and elderly in Meadows of Dan.
Denny Alley, owner of The Coffee Break in Stuart, said that the view outside his store front was bleak following the mandate from Richmond to ban crowds of more than 10.
“No one wants to drive all the way to a restaurant and be number 12,” he said, adding that business has been slow in the fallout of the mandate.
“Who knows what’s going to happen, but I can look out the window onto Main Street and see that this mandate isn’t helping any business, except Walmart,” he said.
Northam said the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) assistance to small businesses would lessen the economic burden business-owners face and improve the economic recovery outlook for the Commonwealth.
While the state-wide ban on crowds of 10 or more is in effect for the foreseeable future, small businesses are trying to adapt to survive. You can do your part in supporting these businesses by ordering take-out, delivery or pick-up.
In addition to monetary support, respect social distancing and stay home if you or someone you’ve come in contact with is sick.