How Local Businesses Are Dealing With COVID
Since the coronavirus pandemic began and stay-at-home orders were put in place, many people are not leaving their homes. As a result, an abundance of small, local businesses are having a hard time keeping the lights on. Without families going out to eat or shop for items except essential goods, many local merchants do not have the funds to cover expenses due to lack of business.
In the span of six months, starting in March 2020, over one hundred sixty-three thousand businesses across the US have notified Yelp that they have closed, about sixty percent of these permanently. Restaurants, bars, and nightlife attractions have been hit the hardest. As of August 31, about thirty-two thousand restaurants have shut down in the US, around sixty-one percent for good.
To better understand the impact of COVID-19 to small businesses, The Talon spoke with owners of two local stores: Flashlight Books in Walnut Creek and Lisa V’s in Concord, both small, locally owned businesses that primarily cater to local customers.
When the shelter-in-place was first ordered, the two businesses needed to adjust to the circumstances. The owners increased their own working hours, trying to manage everything that has been happening.
“We were very lucky in that our landlord postponed our rent payments . . . so we had a little extra flexibility in those first couple months,” the owners of Flashlight Books said. “And since we don't have any employees . . . we didn't have to lay anyone off, though salaries had to be suspended. We did end up launching a fundraiser selling exclusive, branded shirts and totes. . .”
Lisa V’s took a slightly different approach. The owner, Lisa VonFeldon, otherwise known as Lisa V, laid off all her employees so they could file for unemployment. She worked the store by herself to pay the rent. She was able to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan, designed to help small businesses keep workers on payroll and rehired her employees a few months later.
Maintaining business during the shutdown has been difficult, but both stores have been making it. Flashlight Books have relied heavily on their online shop (www.flashlightbooks.com), as well as in-store shopping by appointment, and curbside pickup.
Lisa V’s is a restaurant, so she had other challenges. Ingredients and supplies have been difficult to get. “The price of so many supplies have really gone up,” Lisa V said. “From meats to cheese to produce, most have gone up around twenty percent. A simple item, like disposable gloves that we use so many of, went from forty-five dollars a case to one hundred and fifty dollars a case, and we go through three cases a month. That's almost five hundred dollars a month just for gloves. The first couple months were difficult to get certain supplies but supply chains have been pretty normal these last few months.”
Lisa also needed a new way to bring in customers . “I was lucky because a lot of my business was already take out,” Lisa V said. “The key was letting people know I was open for takeout and we introduced a new concept with our Grab and Go dinners, which are homemade dinners for four people for twenty-nine ninety-nine. We put a big sign out on Clayton Road, my sister put it out on her facebook and my son put it out on his social media. That really helped. Additionally, we simply asked our customers who were coming in to spread the word that we were open.”
Both businesses value the community support that has been displayed by their customers. When asked about it, the Flashlight Books owners replied, “Absolutely, and we're so grateful to them. There have been days when we end up teary eyed, really moved by our customers' support, when they send us a note of appreciation, or make a point to order a new release from us, and let us know that our presence is important to them. There's been a lot of increased awareness about shopping local, and people have been really responsive.”
Lisa V’s was also extremely appreciative. “This is the question that cannot be answered with enough words,” Lisa V said. “Our customers are absolutely AMAZING!! I cannot tell you the support, encouragement and loyalty we received from our customers in Concord and Clayton. People who were struggling themselves and made a point to support us. Children telling their parents ‘We have to go support Lisa V's.’ I will forever be grateful, they saved my business and continue to everyday they show up.”
When asked if there were any increases in sales of certain genres, the owners of Flashlight Books replied, “While not one-to-one related to the pandemic, sales of books on anti-racism, America's history with racism, and both fiction and non-fiction by authors of color have all increased. We've also seen increases in young adult fiction, romance, and cookbooks . . . we sold a number of bread related cookbooks, though those have tapered off.”
Lisa V’s was asked if there were any changes in what people were ordering and she replied that some customers come in for their favorite menu items, but there’s also been an increased popularity in the Grab and Go dinners.
Local businesses may be struggling, but they are pulling through and adapting to the new circumstances. These business owners are part of the local community and provide jobs and services. They are our neighbors. Next time you shop, try to buy from local stores to help businesses where you live.
Interview with the owners of Flashlight Books, Shoshana and Marian
Interview with the owner of Lisa V’s, Lisa VonFeldon