The lights on Main Street USA were turned off suddenly approximately 12 weeks ago. While some light have been turned back on, Main Street will never be the same. Some doubt that Main Street’s lights will ever shine as bright as they once did. The COVID 19 Pandemic has crippled and altered many small businesses over the last few months. As business owners face reopening, they are burdened with new restrictions and requirements that will add cost and stress. Business owners face a classic Catch 22 predicament. Stay closed and be run out of business or open too fast and face closure again. These challenges are bigger than any financial downturn or external threat to their business. These are life changing decisions that will leave Main Street small businesses forever transformed.
A survey conducted by CNBC.com recently shows that “72% of all small business owners say the outbreak is likely to have permanent effects on the way they run their business” (Rosenbaum, 2020).
Consumer confidence and income has been impacted so immediate outlook is scary. “The totality of the plunge in expectations from just a dozen weeks ago to now is staggering, with small business owners representing every industry, firm size and political affiliation all reporting the same reversal in sentiment,” said Jon Cohen, SurveyMonkey chief research officer in the Rosenbaum article on CNBC.com. Not only are business owners hoping for confidence to rebound, they must shell out money just to meet basic reopening requirements.
Balancing employee, customer and supplier health and safety has made ‘just doing business’ harder. Business owners have had to change store layouts, alter menus access, adopted new cleaning protocols, added barriers, installed touch-less check out systems and change the delivery of their products and services. The individual transformations vary but most small businesses to make massive shifts in their day-to-day operations to adjust to the new normal conditions. Business owners aren’t just facing physical changes to their business, they are also facing the psychological affects of the lock down on themselves, their families and their employees.
The stress business owners are facing is layered. Business owners may have had to laid off employees or furlough staff. They had to abandoned shops or shutter them up without knowing if they could ever return. They have been isolated and left in limbo as they wade through government assistance process just to help them make ends meet. They have had to adopt sweeping new rules by local government in order to reopen. “The economic reopening from state to state remains a source of uncertainty rather than confidence for many small business owners.” (Rosenbaum, 2020)
As the engine of the economy, small business has never faced such a threat. At no time in history has the world, shut down or faced a world-wide pandemic. Business owners have no reference manual to help them cope with the uncertainty and fear they face. They are acting on a leap of faith that when they re-open their doors, their customers will return. “They are not quite sure if their customers can pay, or what customers will look like, what buying habits will come out of this, if their product will have the same appeal” said Marilyn Landis, who runs small business consulting firm Basic Business Concepts in Rosenbaum’s recent article.
To add insult to injury, business owners are facing complaints and push back. Customers are unhappy about waiting in line, limited capacity restrictions, requiring appointment or reservations only caveat, and even the simple request that customers wear personal protective equipment before they enter. Some people don’t realize that everything has changed and that every business, no matter how small, has to do their part to ensure the reopening is permanent. No business owner wants to be responsible for a patron or employee getting sick and they want to ensure they make adequate changes to stay the course.
“Small business owners also fear that bigger companies will be in a better position to take advantage of the re-openings”, (Rosenbaum, 2020). And if Main Street is forever altered, the communities will be impacted as well. Less competition, and reduced choices will do nothing to jump start the economy. Customers will likely pay more for less and be willing to spend disposable income as easily as did only a few months ago due to the uncertainty of a second wave of the virus. So small businesses have to be very prepared and very flexible to ensure they provide inviting yet safe spaces for their customers.
So as consumers, we have to aware and be prepared for the changes along Main Street. Honor the store owner’s policies and new procedures. Celebrate their resiliency without adding to their stress. Be kind, be patient and be compassionate. In times of crisis we see the best and the worst of humanity. Make sure you are on the right side and support local business. Shop in small businesses as often as you can and be their champion.
To get the economy roaring again, we need small business to not just survive. We need it to thrive and grow. We all play a part in ensuring that small, local and entrepreneurial business efforts remain vital and resurgent. Amanda Ballantyne, executive director of the Main Street Alliance, was quoted in the CNBC report “The loss of small business will have a multiplier effect. We will not just burn through the vulnerable businesses and then be fine. There will be a second wave of small businesses burned, unless we get better policy in place, there will be another wave, and it will be more painful and impact people who thought they were recession-proof.”
So, buy local and shop small and help turn the Main Street lights back on.