When news of mask mandates and nonessential business shutdowns first broke in the United States, small business owners everywhere scrambled to adjust to new regulations and restrictions in order to keep their doors open and stay afloat. Controversial measures such as mask mandates, limited business hours, and reduced customer limits within stores intended to protect the public were met with a mixture of acceptance and resistance by business owners and consumers alike. As time passed and the pandemic endured, small businesses began to feel the crunch of these unusual operating procedures and continued shutdowns. In addition, supply chain issues further impacted these small businesses limiting their products and causing shortages in some products to persist for weeks to months. Fifty-nine percent of retail establishments and fifty percent of food services reported being affected by these shortages. While many businesses managed to survive the pandemic, others were forced to close their doors permanently. Up to fifty percent of business owners stated during the quarantine that they felt they could not afford to stay open throughout the shutdowns. Data supports that their fears of closure were sound. The United States experienced a loss of 3.3 million active business owners during the pandemic, the largest drop in its history.
Opinions on the response of officials and the health department due to the pandemic are often divided, even amongst members of the same family group who work within the same industry. Bethanne Harman, age 49, and Theresa Strand, age 29, are both employees in Colorado who work in small businesses within the local food industry. Bethanne works as a bartender and manager at a bar in Fountain, while her niece Theresa is a long-time employee of a restaurant in Pueblo. Both experienced the overnight shift in how their businesses ran, but when questioned,their experiences and feelings about the events and policies were dramatically different.
Bethanne’s bar was closed for only ten days during the shutdown before they were able to reopen under limited circumstances. When asked to describe her experience with the ten-day shutdown, she stated that “The financial economic impact of it has been almost devastating.” Her bar has survived thus far through the pandemic. However, she reports that the regulations at the beginning of the shutdown limiting the numbers of customers in the bar and new health department requirements, including plexiglass installations placed between bartenders and customers, when possible, severely limited their income and added strain on keeping their business afloat. Although Bethanne’s workplace has so far survived the pandemic’s small business crisis, some of her friends were not so lucky. “I had ten of my personal friends lose their business, not to mention other business associations I’ve known, and I’ve seen suicides over losing their businesses over the regulations and shutdowns.” These experiences have caused her to label the shutdowns in response to the pandemic as “A gross overreaction. Very gross overreaction.”
Meanwhile, her niece Theresa sees the events through a different lens than her aunt. When asked about her opinions on the shutdown, she states, “I am of the opinion, which was shared by many of my coworkers at the time, that the measures were reasonable in that it was better to err on the side of caution and safety. We even kept our dine-in doors shut when dine-in restrictions were lifted pre-vaccine, as the risk was not worth the reward.” Theresa’s workplace made the shift to an exclusively takeout workplace overnight. She describes the business as fluctuating from almost no business to being overwhelmed with orders and customers throughout the pandemic as measures were adjusted and changed in response to the health crisis. While she noticed some businesses closing, she said it did not seem like a higher number than anywhere else. Even the shortages and additional runs needed to get supplies for the restaurants such as toilet paper and beef felt like less of a problem to her, “It was a small means in keeping employees and patrons safe.”
Despite the sharp difference in attitudes and opinions between these two relatives on the shutdown, there was one area where both they and their workplaces agreed completely. Neither business took advantage of any of the public policies intended to help small businesses through the pandemic. The American Rescue Act was one such policy that offered grants to small businesses as a way to offset their pandemic losses. Other programs included paycheck protection loans to help guarantee employers could pay their employees during the pandemic even if their profits would otherwise not allow them to be able to. Both businesses were concerned about the long-term implications of accepting the help of such programs. Theresa’s workplace simply did not need them as their “…business and support averaged out enough to keep the business open and staff paid.” They also were concerned about their ability to repay the loans after the pandemic. Meanwhile, her aunt expressed concern about acceptance of the loans contributing to the economic state of the country overall, “We were not going to get involved in any way, shape, form or manner with becoming part of the problem.”
Data is not yet available on the impact corona will have had on the economy long term, but it is possible some industries will be impacted permanently. Economists are predicting that the American economy may lose as much as $225 million dollars from business closures during the pandemic. Some businesses have gone so far as to reinvent their business models to adapt to the new economy with little intention to go back to previous models. Time will tell if small businesses will recover from the pandemics events and regulations, but until then, opinions will continue to divide people amongst both political and familial lines.
“2020 Results of the Business Response Survey: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” www.bls.gov. United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/brs/2020-results.htm.
“COVID-19 Relief Options.” www.sba.gov. The United States Small Business Administration. Accessed October 12, 2021. https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/covid-19-relief-options.
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Huddleston Jr., Tom. “How Small Business Owners Are Coping with COVID-19 Pandemic: ‘It Was My Civic Duty to Be a Part of the Solution.’” CNBC, March 23, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2020/03/23/how-small-businesses-across-us-are-coping-with-covid-19-pandemic.html?fbclid=IwAR1evLlkw3c7OXAuEHiSr2zC48tN-3Yi9kJm7aYkaOBBs1nGSOf1WvmNjS0.
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