Recent closures to stop the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state have left small business owners with uncertainty, fear and unanswered questions. But strong community support has given them hope.
On March 17, Governor Kim Reynolds issued a State of Public Health Disaster Emergency, which implemented temporary closures of some businesses, recreational facilities and restrictions on dine-in services for restaurants.
Jay Smith, general manager of Mr. C’s Family Restaurant in Knoxville, says he assumed he would have to completely close down the restaurant, a devastating blow after experiencing a slow winter. However, carry-out and delivery services have curbed some of his financial fears, but Smith says his biggest concern is his employees.
“Our adult workers are mostly working, but we really have a reduced staff,” says Smith. “We have a lot of high school students who are part-timers, and we’re not able to pay them, and I don’t think they can collect unemployment either. They’re all out of school with nothing to do, and they keep calling me to ask if they can come work. So, it’s kind of a bad situation both ways.”
On March 16, Reynolds announced individuals who are laid off due to COVID-19 or have to stay home to self-isolate, care for family members or have an illness related to COVID-19 can receive unemployment benefits, provided they meet all other eligibility requirements.
During a press conference held by Reynolds on Friday, Director of Iowa Workforce Development Beth Townsend said the number of unemployment claims being filed in a single day is close to the number the state would normally see during a busy month.
“Things got worse quickly, and I never would’ve imagined two weeks ago that this is where we’d be right now, but I’m trying to roll with it and do the best thing to keep my customers and employees safe and do the best thing for the community,” says Shawna Miller, owner of Simple Treasures + Blush in Pella.
Miller closed her store to the public after Reynolds’ State of Public Health Disaster Emergency last week. Now, she and a limited number of employees are selling products online, offering delivery services and providing private in-store shopping appointments to stay afloat.
“We’ve switched gears and have tried to get creative on how we could still make some sales in the best way that we could think of,” says Miller.
Last week, the Tulip Time Steering Committee and the Pella Historical Society & Museums made the decision to cancel the 2020 Tulip Time Festival. The festival brings thousands of visitors each year, which generates a significant amount of financial income for local businesses. Smith says it was devastating news, but she feels hopeful.
“It’s a huge game-changer that’s kind of scary, but I know we’re in this together as a community,” says Smith. “I know we’re all feeling the same way … I’ve already felt that community love and support, and it feels like a big hug around us. So, I’m hopeful that somehow, someway, we’ll be able to support each other and get through this strange time.”
Local travel agencies are also feeling the sting of COVID-19-related closures. As airlines began to restrict travel nationally and internationally, Kim Roose with Roose Adventures in Pella says her number one priority was getting her clients home safely.
“There were many stressful hours spent on the phone trying to make sure people got home safely before airlines started shutting down,” says Roose. “I’ve also spent many hours canceling and rescheduling vacations to keep clients both safe and optimistic during such a time of uncertainty.”
While the future impact of COVID-19 remains unclear, Smith, Miller and Roose know this: community support is the lifeline to their businesses. Knoxville Chamber of Commerce Director Hannah Vander Veer says the best thing communities can do to help local businesses is to continue to shop local, whether that’s purchasing a gift card to use later, ordering carry-out/delivery or shopping online.
“We’re looking at this as a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to make sure we’re making diligent decisions to provide businesses with the best possible resources that we can,” says Vander Veer. “We’re crossing our fingers that this will be over in a few months.”