The COVID-19 outbreak has affected many people’s lives, and it has had a particularly harmful effect on small and medium-sized businesses.
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Governor Tom Wolf issued an order March 16 for all non-essential businesses in the state to close. This has caused many local people and businesses to struggle.
Lauren Terrill-Ganster is one of those affected by this order. She owns two daycare centers in Lebanon County: The Learning Mill in Jonestown and Cura Bella in Annville. As they were not considered essential, both of these centers had to be closed upon receiving news of the governor’s order.
“At that moment, all income stopped,” said Terrill-Ganster. She paid the last payroll to her 25 staff members on Friday, March 20 and it depleted much of the money she and her business partner Lauren Yenik had.
“For me, it’s a balance between going back to work, really wanting to pay my teachers and my staff first and then anything left over for me to pay some bills,” she said. “At the same time, I just want to make sure that safety is the number one priority. That’s my challenge.”
Childcare facilities were given the option to apply for a waiver to be considered essential, but in the childcare industry, there are high overhead costs due to the expenses of insurance, liability, food, and rent, which made it nearly impossible for her to keep her facilities open. In fact, it would have cost Terrill-Ganster double to stay open due to a decrease in the number of clients.
“This is affecting all small businesses terribly, but for me, I am mandated with how many teachers per child, so I can’t just cut staffing or do layoffs,” she said. “I would have to keep everyone on to accommodate that.”
She also chose to close due to concerns about the safety of her staff, clients, and children.
“I’m ready to go, I want to open, but at the same time, how devastated would I be if we get a positive in the daycare and grandma’s getting exposed, or parents, or someone with underlying issues,” said Terrill-Ganster. “I don’t know how my heart or mind would be able to wrap around somebody being harmed.
“I think for safety, no matter how clean you are, it’s a scary place to have a child, my staff, or myself.”
To help small business owners like herself, she suggests that there should be grants or forgivable loans so that they are able to meet their basic needs during this crisis. The small business association does provide loans, but the applications for these are complex and the system is currently overburdened with requests.
“It’s not an easy process to get support,” said Terrill-Ganster. “Obviously, this is an unprecedented event and I hope for the future there is a ‘rainy day’ fund for the commonwealth to give immediate support for small businesses to get them through, just so you don’t go to completely nothing.”
“I hope that this is a solid learning opportunity so that if and when something like this would happen again, there’s a good plan in place,” added Terrill-Ganster.
“The volume of information coming out daily can be overwhelming,” said Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce President Karen Groh. “We are working closely with our legislators (state and federal) and the Small Business Administration, to not only understand what resources are available but to provide communication of questions and issues.”
“These are difficult times for all businesses and the Chamber is here to help,” said Groh.”
Another small business owner affected by the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is John Noll, owner of Swatara Coffee Company in Jonestown. In response to the pandemic, he decided to suspend all in-store operations March 18 until further notice.
“We came to the conclusion that the best option for our community and our team was to temporarily suspend service to keep everyone safer and healthier,” said Noll. “We made that difficult decision to do our part to flatten the curve, reduce the pressure on medical professionals and the healthcare system in the days to come, and potentially save lives.”
Before the outbreak, Swatara Coffee Company was seeing a lot of success from an annual event they held called “March Latte Madness,” but this success immediately stopped when they closed.
“We were having a great year,” said Noll. “We still had customers coming to the shop until we temporarily closed our doors.”
Many small businesses have found alternative ways to keep business flowing while their physical locations are closed, such as selling products and gift cards online. This allows their customers to support them without risking the safety of themselves or others. Swatara Coffee Company is one of these businesses, as it is selling its merchandise and electronic gift cards online.
Additionally, to stay in contact with his customers, he started a Facebook livestream every Thursday at 9 a.m. called “Joe with John,” where he discusses various topics related to coffee.
“We encourage people to follow along and to stay in touch,” said Noll. “We’ll bounce back after this crisis because that’s what we do as a community: Whenever we’re presented with an obstacle, we find creative ways to solve it and work together to get it done.
“But first, we need to keep everyone safe.”
Noll plans on reopening the Swatara Coffee Company as soon as it is safe to do so, but until then, he urges others to take the pandemic seriously.
“Right now, our biggest concern is the health and well-being of our community, said Noll. “We love Lebanon County and urge our neighbors to take the virus and prevention measures seriously. If we do not take personal action now, we will not be able to return to “normal” as quickly as we all would like.
We all must do everything in our power to slow the spread, flatten the curve, and protect our health care workers, first responders, and at-risk neighbors, friends, and family.”
Arthur Funk and Sons Construction Services has also been negatively affected by the pandemic. While the company, owned by brothers Robert, Dave and Ken, will remain open, it now has a significantly lower volume of projects and customers due to Governor Wolf’s order.
“The effects earlier on were minimal, but Thursday when the Governor shut down businesses, then it became very significant,” said Ken Funk, co-owner, vice president and project manager. “Our business has dropped drastically, it affects our employees in a huge way, and it has also affected us because it is a big distraction.
“Now instead of coming to work and going about our business, we’re going to work and trying to figure out how to deal with all these regulations that have come in.”
Initially, the Funks feared that they would need to lay off all of their employees, but they were able to keep some of them on staff. However, there were approximately 16 employees who still needed to be laid off.
“We’re trying to figure out how to deal with that over the long term and we’ve been strategizing on how to bring [the laid-off employees] back,” said Funk. “That’s been our main focus here. It’s difficult and we’re trying to do a better job of communicating with them while they’re off so that we can keep them engaged.”
The confusion and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak also presents a major problem for Arthur Funk and Sons, along with other businesses.
“One of the things that really gets businesses anxious is uncertainty, and we have a tremendous amount of uncertainty,” said Funk. “It’s difficult to plan, it’s difficult for our employees to decipher what we’re trying to do when we really don’t know what the end game is.
“It develops this concern that snowballs into emotions, stress, confusion and worry, and then you’re trying to deal with all these things to keep your ship afloat. It’s really difficult.”
Arthur Funk and Sons is also concerned about the pandemic because it has affected their supply chain. In some industries, manufacturing companies were allowed to continue operating but the raw material sources they relied on were not, so they were unable to manufacture their products.
“This thing hasn’t just affected whether we can do construction, it has affected the entire supply chain,” said Funk. “If there’s a hiccup in the supply chain, we can’t complete our projects, so some of our customers are worried about the supply chain.”
Overall, the COVID-19 outbreak has had an unprecedented effect on small businesses both locally and around the world.
“We can’t go by a playbook of another event like this,” said Funk. “The internet has just made information too available, and I think it would be helpful to take out moments of every day and take a walk outside and just breathe a little.”
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