Shops and restaurants in Benton County were given the go-ahead to reopen amidst the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, May 15 – which came sooner than many were expecting.
Small businesses, both retail and restaurants, are the ones struggling the most, and many are using loans to stay afloat, as profits plummet without stable patronage. The cost to reopen safely is large, following months of profit loss due to COVID-19.
Sibling Revelry in downtown Corvallis, known for its selection of eclectic apparel and accessories, had been closed since March 22, before they were able to reopen on May 16. They are now only allowed five to six people in their store at a time, and have noted that the cost to keep their store safe will be “substantial” – including masks for employees and customers, a Plexiglas sneeze guard, disposable anti-bacterial wipes, and hand sanitizer.
Southwestern cuisine favorite Bombs Away on Monroe Avenue never fully closed – they were open for takeout and limited delivery after the statewide shutdown – but are now open for dine-in, at 33 percent capacity with tables spaced six feet apart for proper social distancing.
According to Bombs representative Jeffrey Sawyer, “The costs of staying open/reopening are pretty extreme. To-go boxes themselves are about 33 cents apiece (if using the biodegradable ones). I’ve had to order gallons of hand sanitizer and masks for the entire staff. We also have to have extra staff on to serve far fewer people.”
The Inkwell Home Store recently reopened. Manager Kaitlin Rudolph estimates that the business has spent over $1000 on various safety supplies thus far, and will continue to spend more as needed to keep customers safe.
The Peacock Bar & Grill also reopened on May 15 at 20 percent of their normal capacity. General Manager Stephanie Lee explains, “Of course there is an extra cost in reopening with all of the new restrictions and guidelines… But the extra cost of these items keeps our staff and the customers safe, so the new expenses are well worth it.”
For other businesses, like New Morning Bakery and Allan’s Coffee and Tea, the direct cost of reopening has been minimal. However owner and manager of New Morning, Tristan James, highlights that for them, “The real cost will come from having to have enough support staff for the dining room, servers, bussers, dishwashers, etc. If the dining room isn’t full, it’s hard to bring in enough money to pay these people.”
Employment has been an issue across the board for local businesses as they reopen.
Sibling Revelry had nine employees at the time of closing, three full-time and six part-time, and has now been able to hire back six of these employees, two full-time and four part-time. Bombs initially let everyone go when the shutdown began, but has now brought back about three-fifths of the original staff. Inkwell was forced to furlough the majority of its employees, but has been able to bring them back as a result of reopening. The Peacock was able to keep on all of its staff, while New Morning took a hard hit as a result of the shutdown. The bakery had 42 employees on March 16 and were down to six by the next day. Thankfully, they have been able to increase their staff to 25 as of May 19. Allan’s representative Lauren Kaltsas says that they have been lucky to bring back all of their employees, many of them sticking around throughout the shutdown.
General profits are the biggest concern, next to keeping customers safe, for local businesses.
Sibling Revelry was able to make few sales during the pandemic and ultimately, their profits for March through April amounted to less than four percent of their normal sales.
Cathy Holdorf from Sibling Revelry comments, “We are hoping that we can get up to about half of normal sales by June but have no idea what to expect and would not be surprised to fall well below that. We are told by a retail consultant to expect sales in the Fall to be off by 25-30%.”
Bombs is having similar issues – Sawyer says that “there are no profits right now,” and that they are relying on building loans to continue operation. Though reopening for dine-in business has helped the situation, Bombs is still taking in 20-25 percent of the revenue they typically take in during the year.
Rudolph from Inkwell says that they have also been quite affected by the shutdown, stating that daily and monthly sales were significantly lower than normal throughout and are currently analyzing sales during reopening, unsure what the long-term effect will be.
Lee from The Peacock explains, “Things are difficult financially for small businesses of all kinds. The restaurant business is no exception to that. We will not recover fully from this novel COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shelter-in-place. And being fully operational will probably look different with new regulations and restrictions. I don’t think anyone can have expectations as to what the restaurant industry will experience in the future.”
Though the future looks bleak, James from New Morning asserts, “Food service has a very low profit margin; less than 10 percent. We have seen our sales decline about 70 percent, so we are currently not making any profit; however, we feel the longevity of the business is worth investing money into to keep it open to make sure it is still here when things can return to normal.”
Kaltsas from Allan’s comments that profits made at their cafes decreased heavily during the pandemic, but they were able to keep business going and make some profit by selling coffee products through their online shop.
Many businesses are now turning to their communities for support.
As Sawyer from Bombs says, “If you want to see your locally-owned businesses survive at all, now is the time to frequent them however you feel safely.”
By Cara Nixon