Curbside, takeout, delivery, drive-thru, limited access, social distancing and changing hours are some areas small businesses are shifting their focus to in order to stay in business in times of closures and lessened community interaction.
It looks different for each business as they look at ways to meet the needs and wants of consumers while adhering to executive orders and health official recommendations.
At the Cozy Theatre, where movies could possibly start showing Friday, March 27, the historic theatre kept its doors open over the weekend by selling popcorn and other concession items. Owner Dave Quincer said it was heart warming to see the community continue to come out in support.
Quincer's son, Matthew Quincer, said he runs the Comet Theatre in Perham and works at the Wadena theatre as well. The theatre is his full-time job, so he's willing to do whatever they can including possibly getting their drive-in theatre in Litchfield up and running as soon as possible. Dave said they are still awaiting the ground to thaw before they can get that venture running later this spring.
It's not just a matter of shifting efforts. They still have to be able to get the movies from motion picture companies. It's that unknown of what will be available to show and when they can start showing them that are weighing heavily on the operators.
"Financially we'll be OK," Dave said. A loyal customer base is helping with that. Dave and Matthew both repeated how thankful they were that the community was as supportive now as they always have been.
One customer out at the Cozy on Friday, March 20 was Aaron Larson, who had his arms full with two slushies and a popcorn.
"We're trying to do at least one (business) a day, the businesses that are hit by this," Larson said. "A little more often than we would have otherwise, but we've got to keep it going. We've got to keep our little town going."
If the theatre can reopen Friday, they plan to show "I Still Believe," "The Way Back" and "Onward."
Down the street at Boondocks, Shelly Salge said that they've changed things drastically, including only offering pick up and curbside. They've put their full menu on hold and instead offer limited options each day.
"We are trying to eliminate some of the excess," Salge said. They don't want to make more than they can sell and risk wasting food. Regulars have been supportive, but Salge said they are doing about half of their regular business as many people come to grips with the change.
For regulars like Bruce Uselman of Wadena (not the city councilman), he was still getting Boondocks meals almost daily as he has for many years. He said he was missing out on the social aspect of gathering for meals.
"I'm hoping it don't last too long," Uselman said. "It's kind of boring."
Uselman is retired and said he appreciated that they are still serving food.
"I've got food at home, but I'm not much for making it," Uselman said.
Locking the door and putting all the chairs up on the tables was tough for the Boondocks couple. Working in the kitchen, the two have the music turned up to drown out the silence of the normally bustling restaurant. They call it a "new normal." Shelly commented that this virus will likely change the way people gather in the future.
While dine in is on hold, businesses like The BBQ Smokehouse are seeing an uptick in their other retail items such as ground hamburger. Owner Tyler Ehrmantraut said he had to put a 5-pound limit on ground hamburger as it was flying out the door. He said while consumers are making different buying decisions, he's perhaps more concerned about what suppliers are going to do in the coming weeks. He heard a report that while markets typically sell 4.1 million pounds of fresh meat a week, it reached 10 million pounds last week. That beats out some of the largest buys of the year typically only seen during the Fourth of July.
"I'm more concerned about the fresh meat market," Ehrmantraut said. He's fearful that packers may start to gouge suppliers. Suppliers won't buy under those conditions, meaning a possible drop in product he can sell. He, like others, appreciates the continued traffic from customers. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order Friday, March 20 combating price gouging during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency.
"Dine-in is what it is, but take outs have been good," Ehrmantraut said. He's seen an increase in road traffic, especially with the arrival of Hwy 10 workers hungry for the smoked meat varieties. Ehrmantraut added that the sales of farm fresh eggs have been strong.
Eats-N-Ales co-owner Chelsea Kemp was awaiting customers Saturday in Drastic Measures Brewing. The two businesses are co-located, each thriving off the other. She said the community has been very supportive during this changing climate. But the unknowns about the closure were still making business decisions difficult. She made her regular food order without knowing whether she'd still be under a closure or complete lock down. She is still offering a full menu, which is tough considering she likes to bring a fair amount of fresh produce into the menu. While the business was providing walk-ins and curbside pick up, Kemp said the dine in was a major part of the business.
She was on her own Saturday, though she and co-owner Josh Bachmann have five other employees that usually work during busier conditions. She felt for the employees that were seeing reduced hours during this closure and hoped for a speedy return to normal.
"I think it's going to be longer than we think," Kemp said.
The governor's Executive Order (20-04) related to closure of restaurants, bars and places of amusement was signed Friday, March 13. The closure was to be in place from March 17 - 27. On March 16, that closure was clarified to include salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, spas, massage therapy and the like. Some businesses have decided to remain closed until March 30, the earliest school districts will be reopening.
Small business assistance
Governor Walz announced Friday, March 20 that small businesses in Minnesota are now eligible to apply for disaster assistance through the Small Business Administration for economic injury during the COVID-19 pandemic. This announcement comes after Walz sent a letter to the Director of the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance requesting that Minnesota businesses be eligible for this assistance.
“Small businesses across Minnesota are putting the health of their neighbors before their bottom line,” Walz said. “This assistance will help our state’s businesses recover from the economic hardship caused by COVID-19.”
The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million, which can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing during the pandemic. Small businesses may apply for a loan at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
On Wednesday, March 18, the state also granted a 30-day Sales and Use Tax grace period for businesses identified in Executive Order 20-04. Identified businesses with a monthly Sales and Use Tax payment due March 20, 2020 will have until April 20 to make that payment. These customers should still file their return by March 20. For more information, visit revenue.state.mn.us.
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