How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting Local Businesses

How+the+COVID-19+Pandemic+is+Affecting+Local+Businesses

Photographs courtesy of www.sj-r.com

“There’s been so many challenges, I don’t even know where to start,” said Josh Waldmire, owner of popular Route 66 restaurant Cozy Dog. As the pandemic rages on, several of Springfield’s local businesses remain anxious for things to return to normal. “Our hope is that this will be over as soon as possible.”

 During this 10-month ordeal, Illinois’ citizens and businesses alike have been subject to innumerable safety mitigations. Waldmire dislikes the fluidity of  protective measures. “It’s been hard to effectively follow guidelines because the guidelines have continued to change so rapidly.”

As of January 18, Governor J.B. Pritzker has transitioned Sangamon County into Phase 4: Revitalization. By doing so, bars and restaurants like Cozy Dog may be able to serve more customers than allowed under the previous Sangamon County order. The county’s decision allowed bars and restaurants to offer indoor seating at just up to 25 percent capacity.

 Under Phase 4, restaurants and bars must arrange seating to provide a minimum of six feet between tables or other designated patron service areas. These businesses can also now offer 25 percent standing room capacity.

In an attempt to curb financial losses, Congress passed two stimulus packages. By the end of June 2020, nearly 5 million businesses were granted forgivable loans under the Payment Protection Program (PPP). PPP loans have been in lofty demand, but some believe that the program does not stretch far enough.

“I was completely shut out of all loans until I finally received the city grant,” Reverie owner Patrick Russell stated. “There are a lack of relief programs for new businesses.” Reverie opened in November of 2019, and Russell is its lone employee. Although businesses can be eligible for a PPP loan without having filed a 2019 tax return, a sole proprietor like Russell must provide that necessary documentation to be considered.

The first draw of  PPP loans required businesses to allocate 60 percent to payroll costs for the loan to be forgivable. With nearly 25 million small businesses operating in the U.S. without any payroll, like that of a mom and pop shop, eligibility for this government assistance is anything but certain.

 President Joe Biden has been vocal on plans to pass another stimulus package in the coming months. “I would like to see more COVID relief for microbusinesses,” Russell explains. “There are several businesses in downtown Springfield that predominantly operate under just one employee.”

Reverie was 1 of the 126 local businesses to receive a $5,000 grant from the Office of Planning & Economic Development’s Small Business Assistance program in December 2020. This is the first COVID relief financial aid that Reverie has been able to obtain.

Not all local businesses have been hurt significantly. Grocery stores, financial institutions, hardware stores and several other categories were deemed “essential” under the March 2020 stay-at-home order.

“If we had not been deemed essential, we would probably be out of business right now,” Lakeside True Value owner Jeff Fafoglia said. However, he explained that sustenance does not come without challenges. “We have a more senior staff, which prompted several employees to take a leave of absence,” Fafoglia clarified. He then went on to say that this decision by workers was “fully supported.”

Fafoglia is concerned for local business owners, calling for greater government cooperation with local establishments. Fafoglia is also the owner of Go Get Lost Worldwide Adventures, which takes a more hands-on approach than a traditional travel guide. Go Get Lost has been largely unable to conduct business due to travel restrictions.

Small business owners across the state have called on Governor Pritzker to delay minimum wage increases. “We have seen a reduction in business and an increase in cost for take-out essentials,” Waldmire noted. “The governor refusing to freeze minimum wage hikes makes it seem like he doesn’t want us to succeed.”

In response to these owner’s pleas, Governor Pritzker released this statement in June 2020. “We have a lot of challenges in this state, but one of them is people living in poverty and working the very low minimum wage that we’ve had.”

Nearing 15,000 positive cases and surpassing 200 deaths in Sangamon County, health professionals are still calling for proficient safety measures. As the vaccine rollout has begun, it appears the American people are on mile 24 of this 10-month marathon. To get vaccines to Americans, President Joe Biden plans to double vaccine investment to roughly $20 billion.

In one statement, President Biden stated the following: “Our plan is as clear as it is bold. Get more people vaccinated for free, create more places for them to get vaccinated, mobilize more medical teams to get the shots in people’s arms, increase supply and get it out the door as soon as possible.”

Millions of small business owners in Sangamon County hope widespread vaccinations will lead to full re-openings in 2021.