I grew up as the daughter of a single father whose primary source of income was (and is) the restaurants he owns. Consequently, I was far more involved in economics than most children— what other eight-year-old goes to a restaurant on snow days and before school in the morning? This involvement also means I know how hard the COVID-19 pandemic will be for small businesses.
This crisis has caused an economic tsunami for countries across the globe—but it’s the small businesses that are among those suffering the most. My dad and other small business owners are counting on their community more than ever before to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everyone is feeling the pain of COVID-19, but I would argue that small business owners are taking the hit harder than most people. My household’s main source of income is the bars and pub that we own, which were shut down on March 16. A huge majority of our income went down because of it and will continue going down until we are able to open again.
Granted, the restaurants are allowed to do carry-out food, but what most people don’t understand is that food has an extremely low profit margin. After the costs of labor, bills and product, most menu items are scarcely above the break-even point. Many restaurants make money off of alcoholic beverages, not the actual food.
For carry out, restaurants are not really profiting, but are merely being partially reimbursed for all of their stock going to waste. When the state suddenly shut down restaurants, the pre-ordered inventory, like food menu ingredients and alcohol, went to waste. Most restaurant owners are just trying not to lose money; they’re not profiting.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy from them, though. When restaurants are finally allowed to reopen, not only do they have to try to regain business, but they have to repurchase stock that will have gone bad.
“Won’t the new unemployment laws help them?” some might ask. Well, not exactly. The current bills allow small business owners to take out loans in order to help them stay afloat, but these loans must be paid off and could lead to another debt crisis if done on a massive scale. Additionally, the government is giving small business owners money to pay employees, but again, this doesn’t do much for the business or owners themselves. The money is trickling down, but leaving little behind for those in the middle.
That being said, it’s probably easier and cheaper for a customer to pick up a pre-made meal to heat up from Costco on the way home, but giving their dollar to Costco isn’t helping the local businesses pay their employees, or small business owners looking to make a living.
A number of businesses are trying new ideas in order to increase consumership. The Barn in Fenton (my dad’s restaurant), for example, has started selling common grocery items. Being a commercial business, The Barn has access to more items that groceries might be sold out of, meaning that people can get their groceries and support a local business. Additionally, The Barn started selling take-home cooking kits along with cook-along videos. This is just one example of one restaurant; the list goes on. These are all efforts not for profit— but for the sake of keeping afloat.
We’ve all heard about how shopping local is good for the economy and whatnot, but if ever there was a time to start, it’s now. Or at least when we are allowed to leave our homes. Unfortunately, many local businesses will be lost to this economic slide, but we can shrink that number by supporting the local pizza joint instead of the Walmart down the street.
These last few weeks, and upcoming weeks, have been more difficult than ever for local business owners. Supporting them, by donation or consumership, will ensure that the community can thrive after the crisis is over.