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Small Businesses Suffer From Closures Due To COVID-19

The streets of downtown Springfield were empty on St. Patrick's Day
Olivia Mitchell
NPR Illinois
The streets of downtown Springfield were empty on St. Patrick's Day

Illinois’ closure of bars and dine-in restaurants has Springfield businesses worried as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread throughout the state.

Brent Schwoerer of Engrained Brewery, on the west side of Springfield, said his major concern is the survival of his employees.

“I hope the feds and the state step up their efforts. There’s a lot of talk about what they’re going to do to help,” said Schwoerer. “What does that mean? And how can that give my employees some confidence in terms of the next two weeks?”

He said most of his employees live paycheck to paycheck, and he has encouraged some of them to file for unemployment.

The Trump administration along with Illinois leaders are pushing initiatives to help businesses and employees by cutting payroll taxes, providing paid sick leave, and working with the Small Business Administration to provide loans that will alleviate economic injury.

While Illinois’ restaurant closure took effect Monday, downtown businesses started feeling the pinch over the weekend, after the cancellation of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade.

The streets of downtown Springfield were empty on St. Patrick's Day
Credit Olivia Mitchell / NPR Illinois
NPR Illinois
The streets of downtown Springfield were empty on St. Patrick's Day

Adam Nicholson, a bartender at The Incubator, said the day of the parade is critical, as bars in downtown Springfield heavily rely on the day for profit. Although it’s a one day celebration, it could possibly determine the fate of some bars in the area.

“This is the day when sales push us into the black. This is the day when bars downtown make the majority of their revenue for the year,” Nicholson said. “If it’s an iffy year, I think we may see closures downtown due to this one day.”

Despite the parade cancellation and the governors' request for everyone to stay home, Nicholson still expected supporters to come downtown because they know how important this day is for small businesses.

Bar patron Brian Berns was at the bar socializing with friends. He said he would worry about COVID-19 when it hits close to home.

“If I wasn’t here, I would be ubering, making money, like I do every year during this time, and since there’s no people to take a ride with,” Berns said. “ I figured I might as well have a couple of drinks, and support a bar that’s really suffering right now.”

Shortly after, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Sangamon County, just minutes away from downtown at Memorial Hospital.

Businesses that remained open through the weekend, and customers who supported them, received a lot of criticism.

“We’re just small independent operations that run on tight budgets, and not a lot of profits,” said Schwoerer, defending small businesses.

Still, public health experts and some political leaders chided citizens who turned out for festivities after repeated warnings to keep away from crowds, for fear of spreading the deadly coronavirus. This included a disappointed J.B. Pritzker.

“It’s unfortunate that many people didn’t take that seriously. The time for persuasion is over. The time for action is here,” said Pritzker.

Professionals claim staying home will stop the disease from spreading quickly, and overwhelming the health care system. Pritzker said closing restaurants was a tough call, but he doesn’t feel like people are taking COVID-19 prevention seriously enough.

“This is not a joke. No one is immune to this, and you have an obligation to act in the best interest of all the people in this state,” the governor said.

It’s not just Springfield’s bars that are being affected. Shop owners also report sharp declines in profit and visitors over the past few weeks.

Linda Renehan runs Springfield Vintage. As she clutched onto her bottle of Lysol disinfectant wipes, she offered advice on how customers could still assist businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hopefully, everybody got a savings account with some money in it because it’s going to get tough unless people help,” said Renehan. “That’s why you’re seeing a lot of people saying tip your waiters, buy gift certificates, just do something to help somebody else.”

Many business owners are remaining optimistic. Sheri Koch, owner of Murphy’s Loft downtown, said her shop has been affected by the talk of the virus, but she is looking toward the future.

“Once this blows over, definitely come downtown, there’s a lot of really cool shops down here, a lot of nice places to eat,” Woods said. “We really need the locals to come down to patronize us.”

There is no timeline for the impact COVID-19 could have on people and businesses.

Meanwhile, it’s vital to follow instructions given by Illinois’ Department of Public Health, such as washing your hands, not touching your face, and practicing social distancing.

Copyright 2020 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Olivia Mitchell is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.
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