Small business owners talk about struggle to survive in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus
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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The coronavirus pandemic has had a wide-reaching impact on small businesses throughout Northeast Ohio.

Even some that have been allowed to remain open have experienced a drastic drop in business.

Fewer customers are now coming through the doors at Convoy Tire in Painesville, where owner John Rossi said she expects a slow recovery.

“It’s going to take time before everything can get back to normal, economically even,” Rossi said.

At nearby repossession and towing company Bullet Recovery, fewer people on the roads has led to a 90 percent reduction in calls for tows, according to owner Jerry Smith.

He said two new tow trucks he purchased just before the pandemic are sitting largely unused.

“We’re not doing anything, and right now, the impact has just been huge on us,” Smith said.

The owners of Goddess Construction LLC said they had to self-isolate for two weeks after a customer tested positive for the virus. After returning to work, their calls are drastically down, with more people stuck at home are opting to do home remodeling projects themselves.

“We were averaging about 12 calls a day,” owner Rick Montgomery said. “We’ve had zero. The phones have just stopped ringing.”

Some restaurants allowed to remain open for pickup and delivery service are also struggling. Nick Corradi, owner of four area Master Pizza Franchises, said business is down by 40 to 50 percent and staff is leery about coming to work.

“We’re fighting everyday to keep open, trying to get people to come to work,” Corradi said. “It’s not as easy as it sounds.”

*Read more stories on the coronavirus pandemic, including in Ohio, here.*

Help has been hard to come by. So far, only one of four small business owners we spoke with who applied for federal Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans for small businesses have received approval. 

Anthony DeBenedictis, owner of Gary Ann Hair Studio in Mayfield, said 15 of his workers remain unemployed as the salon remains closed. He said he’s prepared disposable capes, shields and masks and planned for a reduced schedule to limit the number of people allowed inside the salon when it’s allowed to reopen.

DeBenedictis said he hope that can happen as soon as possible.

“My goal as a business owner is to protect my family, my staff and the community,” he said.

Aut-O-Rama Drive-In Theatre in North Ridgeville is among the seasonal businesses awaiting guidance on reopening. It was scheduled to open in March after being closed since October.

“If we can’t open for the season, the funds are depleting,” said owner Tim Sherman. “We’re one of 24 drive-ins in Ohio where, if we can’t get open, we won’t survive this.”

Sherman said he was prepared to open with contactless payments, online ticketing and other precautions in place.

“We don’t know where we stand, when we might be able to open, what regulations we’ll be faced with,” Sherman said. “We’re guessing.”

The small business owners had different opinions on the best path toward restarting Ohio’s economy.

As painful as the impact has been on them, Montgomery and Corradi agreed a slow, phased reopening plan is smartest.

“We want to take baby steps here,” Montgomery said. “We want to be careful.”

Others, like Smith, called for a full reopening with business owners taking steps to keep employees and customers safe.

“Trust us,” Smith said. “We know how to run our small businesses and be safe about it.”

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