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Small Businesses Take A Hit From Coronavirus

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March 18, 2020
Photo by Esther D. Kustanowitz

People have started to ask me how this crisis has affected my small bakery-cafe business. And here’s what I have to say so far: First of all, I would like to acknowledge that all businesses of every size are affected. No one is untouched.

So far, the obvious effect up to this point has been the cancellation of basically any type of catering. And I can say from having spoken to other restaurant owners locally and through various groups nationally, that this is across the board. Every event that has been canceled had food that was being provided by someone (Even the Gluten-Free Vegan Dieters Alliance meeting …) and now those orders are canceled. Catering is a decent portion of my business but more than just being a revenue stream, it also makes up for the days when foot traffic is weak. So, while I can’t say that the loss of catering will affect this week’s payroll, beyond that it’s definitely a hit.

I don’t really know what to expect in terms of foot traffic moving forward. On the one hand, I do expect delivery orders to increase as well as takeout for those willing to brave the distance between me and our freshly sanitized counter. On the other hand, I expect dine-in to be much lighter. Furthermore, I don’t know if people are still going to be panic buying and I should make more bread or whether no one will venture out and I should make less.

I’ll pause for a moment to acknowledge that my casual restaurant may be less affected than any of the higher-end places that focus on dining in. And that’s because people will stay in and also because it’s only a matter of time before we all start tightening our financial belts.

Thus far I have not seen any indication that the supply chain is affected, which is another element that I am concerned with (other than shortages of bottled water and cleaning supplies). As long as I can get flour and other ingredients, we can turn it into bread and other products. If we can’t get our ingredients, we will be in trouble.

My concerns lie for my own business and family, but I am equally concerned for my employees. One of the first things that I will have to consider will be a reduction in hours to make sure that we are being efficient. That may translate into fewer work hours for my staff. I am hopeful that the government will step in in a meaningful way to support the people who will have their hours reduced. And frankly I hope that whatever they do implement is very easy to access — because there is a difference between reading about a bill being passed in Congress and people getting money in their pockets.

My perspective is only that from a small food-service institution: Everyone’s lives are changing for the time being. I wish that I could simply telecommute and email everyone bagels and pizza but we do not yet have that technology (looking at you, Elon Musk).

These are some weird times. And everything is moving so quickly that whatever I write this evening may very well be invalidated by the morning and some change in events.

My perspective is only that from a small food-service institution: Everyone’s lives are changing for the time being. I wish that I could simply telecommute and email everyone bagels and pizza but we do not yet have that technology (looking at you, Elon Musk).

Lastly, people are starting to ask what they can do to help. I think we all need to be open to supporting one another in every way. I am certainly going to be sensitive to the fact that everyone is dealing with change. I will try to support my local businesses as much as possible.

I am preparing for my business model to potentially change until life returns to some sense of normality. And although I hope that some time from now, I’ll look back at this story and laugh at my musings, I am also realistic that I might look back and think how foolish I was for not preparing.


Dan Messinger is the owner of Bibi’s Bakery & Cafe. 

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