The novel coronavirus disease 2019, COVID-19, has impacted the businesses of Junction City and Geary County, but it is too soon to know how deep or how long-lasting the effects will linger.
“I used this quote the other day with somebody I said, ‘Right about now it’s a little bit trying to keep up with everything that’s happening — like laying track in front of the bullet train,’” said Mickey Fornaro-Dean, Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce president of Chamber operations and Economic Development director. “There’s a lot going on, a lot happening at the federal level, at the state level (and) at the local level. As far as this organization, the Chamber of Commerce and its divisions, we’re doing everything in our power to try and keep as much information flowing to our membership and our businesses as we possibly can.”
With all the panic shopping at the stores to stock up on supplies, Fornaro-Dean said it’s important to remember to shop locally during this time as well.
“It’s kind of interesting,” she said. “The American people are a very unique, resilient people. And you see lots of unique examples. It’s very important, if at all possible, to try and shop local to keep those dollars rolling. Just try as much as you can to shop locally, to be cognizant of what’s going on, patronize the buildings and the stores and stuff that are still open locally.”
She also talked about helping others during this time. Several of the city’s fast-food chains have closed their lobbies to patrons and only have their drive-thru open to maintain some level of business. Unfortunately, there are some — namely truck drivers — who are unable to use the drive-thru option.
“A colleague of mine said, ‘If you see a truck driver in a parking lot, maybe you ought to ask him if you could drive through and get him his meal,’” she said. “I think there’s examples all over the place of ... this is a time to not just think about yourself. I realized that self-preservation is very important, taking care of yourself and your family, but also think of others and other examples of how you can help. Maybe when you go through a drive-thru, usually people don’t tip people, but maybe give them a buck or two to kind of help because some of these people are either on layoff or shortened hours, shortened staff.”
For local business owners, Terry and Peggy Heldstab, the uncertainty of COVID-19 has been a mixture of busyness and shortcomings.
“It’s been at least as busy as typical for this time of year,” said Terry, owner of Heldstab Appliance. “It’s actually been very busy. If [the government] at some point, (with) plumbers and service people in people’s homes, if they request that stopped — I worry about what it’s going to do.”
Heldstab is the owner of one of the two appliance repair shops in Junction City and also worries about the hardships on residents if a stay in place order was ever issued.
“I think it’s important to just go very cautiously and do what we can to keep things running in the interim,” he said.
Before and after working on a customer’s appliance, Terry said he wipes down the equipment with Clorox wipes and sanitizes his hands in an effort to prevent cross-contamination.
“Nobody has asked me to do it,” he said. “But I decided, a little over a week ago … I don’t want anybody to be offended, cleaning something before I touch it — I don’t want to spread it from one house to the next. I’m just being extremely careful.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Peggy who is a franchisee owner of Baskin-Robbins, has seen a decrease in business.
“It’s hard to judge this year because last year so many troops were gone,” she said. “Before this happened I would say our sales were up about 15 to 20% from last year. As of now, it’s about a 20 to 25% reduction in overall sales.”
Her store is still open to carry out orders and the corporation has a working relationship with DoorDash delivery service, which she encourages customers to use if they choose not to leave their homes during this time.
“DoorDash is a delivery service that people can go online, place their order and then that DoorDash employee will come to the store, pick that up and then bring that back to them,” she said. “During this coronavirus time, I believe the corporation has negotiated with them on the delivery costs to customers, but they would just get online for DoorDash, and then they can do it that way so individuals don’t have to leave the house but they can still get product.”
Peggy said her employees have had extra training on cleaning and cash handling procedures during this pandemic to provide the best, safest service possible including a rule for the employees to stay home if not feeling well.
“With all the precautions we’re taking, we’ll just continue to provide products as long as the government allows us to,” she said.
Another option available to shoppers is purchasing gift cards or gift certificates from local businesses for events later in the year.
“I’ve said this multiple times, I’m worried about what the impact of this is going to be to our businesses — locally, yes, because that’s my purview — but (also) across the board in our state and in our country,” Fornaro-Dean said. “People that could, right now, afford to buy gift certificates for you know, a birthday that’s in May, right now might be good to kind of help do that.”
There have been calls online in different social media platforms for the state and nation to shut down for two weeks or more in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Heldstabs both think this would hurt economically — especially the small business owner.
“That would hurt everyone — absolutely everyone,” Peggy said. “Whether you’re a business owner or not but especially small business owners, because your expenses don’t go away. So, whether you’re open or not, the power’s still on, the rent still has to be paid. I mean everything still goes on. So, it would be a major impact to every small business.”
“Once people are out of work for too long, it’s gonna be difficult for people to pay rent,” Terry said. “Commercial stores, if they close down to lack of customers — it’s a real economic concern, across the board for everybody.”
Help is available
The Small Business Administration is offering loans to help with the relief process as the impact becomes more noticeable Fornaro-Dean said.
“Some companies are like I don’t want to take on another loan, I totally understand that,” she said. “But, we were trying to encourage people to still go on and fill out the paperwork. Because the more information that our state and the feds get about the depth of issues or problems this causes with small business, then as they’re going through this process, putting together legislation — whether it be at a state level or a federal level — the more information they can gather … that helps them with what the legislation is.”
Once restrictions are lifted
Most importantly is when the restrictions are lifted and life returns to normal, Fornaro-Dean said it is important to return to the stores and businesses to help them.
“I think there’s going to be pent up demand and it’s probably going to happen anyway,” she said. “People are going to want to get out of their house, they’re going to want to get out and see people, they’re going to want to socialize. But, I think for the community and businesses in the community it’s critically important. It allows them to hopefully get the boost that they had lost on the other side, maybe that boost would help them in the next quarter.
“So, as soon as restrictions are lifted and the world gets to right itself again, which I’m hoping is sooner rather than later, I would recommend people get out, grab their friends and celebrate, so to speak,” she added. “I hope that’s not inconsiderate, but when it’s safe. And that’s what people love to do. And this community loves to get together.”
During this time, before any complete shutdown of services, Peggy gave this piece of advice.
“I would say support your local businesses now more than ever and just know that we will all get through this together,” she said.
Time will tell what the overall impact is on the city, county and state levels.