Small Businesses Navigate the Ever-Changing Reality of COVID-19



FILE – In this file photo from June 17, 2021, a sign requiring masks is displayed at a restaurant in Rolling Meadows, Ill. (AP Photo / Nam Y. Huh, File)


For a brief moment this summer, it looked like small businesses could take a break from the continuing onslaught of the pandemic. More Americans, many of them vaccinated, have flocked to restaurants and stores without needing to mask themselves or socially distance themselves.

But then there was an increase in cases due to the delta variant, a push for vaccine warrants and a reluctant return to more COVID-19 precautions. Now, small business owners are trying to find a balance between staying safe and becoming completely open again.

Navigating the ever-changing reality of coronavirus comes with a number of risks, from financial hardship to offending customers to worker strain. These challenges could intensify as winter approaches and outdoor alternatives become limited. Still, small business owners say the whiplash is worth it to keep customers and employees safe.

“Just a few weeks ago, small business owners were hoping that a return to normalcy would help jumpstart our recovery,” said Jessica Johnson-Cope, chair of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices National Leadership Council and owner. of a small company itself, Johnson Security Bureau. At New York.

New York City ordered a vaccine warrant for customers in August. For Dan Rowe, CEO of Fransmart, which runs the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, the tenure has been a financial burden and a headache. Brooklyn Dumpling Shop opened in May and has six employees. Its format adapted to pandemics is contactless and automated.

“It was designed to be a restaurant with fewer employees,” Rowe said. Glass separates the kitchen and staff from customers, who order food from an app. When the kitchen finished preparing the food, it placed an automatic style window, so workers would not come in contact with customers.

“We designed this great restaurant with low labor, and the government is pushing us back,” he said.

Rowe had to hire another staff member to check the immunization cards at the door, increasing his overhead. His complaint is that retail stores and grocery stores offering prepared foods like Whole Foods don’t face the same restrictions.

“What is happening is not fair and it is not practical,” he said.

Changing rules can cause confusion among customers – and even resentment. Suzanne Lucey has owned a Page 158 Books bookstore in Wake Forest, North Carolina, for six years. When the pandemic began, the store was closed for three months. Page 158 Books reopened last July and gradually increased store capacity from 5 to 12, in line with state guidelines. The capacity limits were lifted before the holidays last year.

When the number of cases began to climb this summer, Lucey’s zip code became the third highest in the state for COVID-19 cases. They have a sign in the window that says a mask is required inside the store, but with no state or city rules to back them up, they don’t enforce it.

Lucey said about one or two people a month broke the rule.

“It’s tough. You don’t want to turn people away. But I want my staff to feel safe,” Lucey said, especially since two of her employees have health issues that make them more vulnerable. “I don’t want my staff to feel like they have to be combative. So that’s how we handle it. Most people are pretty respectful.”

Allison Glasgow, director of operations at McNally Jackson bookstores in New York City, echoed Lucey’s sentiment.

Its stores follow state and city restriction rules. One store has a cafe, which must follow New York City’s mandate for customers to be vaccinated. Bookstores also require proof of vaccination at events. Otherwise, masks are optional, although recommended, if clients and staff are vaccinated.

“You can appear hostile when trying to monitor people’s immunization status,” she said. “It’s not ‘Hey, welcome!’ that’s what you’ve always wanted to do – it’s kind of a roadblock there. “

While safety is everyone’s priority, the changes can be exhausting for owners and staff. Jennifer Williams, founder and CEO of closet organization company Saint Louis Closet Co., said the company initially rushed to implement a COVID-19 plan, including masking and increased disinfection.

“We do not have the possibility of” working from home “, our activity takes place in our manufacturing plant and at the homes of our customers, so we had to adapt quickly to the start of the pandemic with Covid precautions”, a she declared.

She removed the mask requirement on July 1, after her staff were fully vaccinated, COVID-19 cases were down and CDC recommendations changed. But it was short-lived.

In early August, Missouri was one of the top three states for coronavirus cases. Williams reimplemented the mask mandate.

Williams employees can spend up to eight hours a day in a mask installing closet organization systems in a customer’s home. “The mental drain from the employees has been extreme,” said Williams.

Jessica Benhaim, owner of Lumos Yoga & Barre, an independent fitness studio in Philadelphia, gradually increased class size limits from late spring through summer, but capped them at 12, below pre-existing levels. pandemic of 18 students for yoga and 14 for helming.

Even though the city has lifted the capacity restrictions, it is keeping them capped in case the restrictions return. She lifted mask requirements for vaccinated students on June 15, but reinstated them when Philadelphia implemented a mask mandate in mid-August. Vaccinated students can remove their masks when they reach their mats.

“The constant adjustments over the past 18 months have been exhausting,” Benhaim said. “More than anything, it has been stressful balancing the adjustments and trying to keep a sense of normalcy for my staff and clients.


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