Small local businesses are adapting to survive COVID-19 closures

Posted at 6:04 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 18:36:50-04

Jill Meyer, president of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t know what the local economy will look like after the coronavirus except different.

“There are so many unanswered questions right now,” she said Tuesday.

The governors of Ohio and Kentucky have ordered all restaurants and bars to stop serving food and drink indoors; businesses that violate the order might find themselves boarded up by police like Queen City Lounge was Tuesday morning. Even in spaces where food isn’t ever served, the fear of infection and the need to protect employees have led to weekslong closures and sharp drops in traffic.

“It’s the very practical challenges businesses are having in keeping their workforces producing and employed while also trying to be mindful of all of the health and safety requirements,” Meyer said. “I think that the longer it goes for those businesses who have not figured out a new way — whether it’s temporary, or a new way — I think you’ll see some tough decision being made in that regard.”

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The small businesses that hope to survive the pandemic will have to adapt.

At Old Town Cafe in Covington, that means offering delivery service for the first time. For Walnut Hills-based clothing brand Originalitees, it means trading the grand opening of their flagship store for a soft opening and a 25% markdown on all online sales.

The Cincinnati Chamber is using its website to provide resources and updated information for all Tri-State businesses, whether or not they’re members, and connect them to federal and state relief programs.

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Meyer said the organization is also working to find jobs for individuals who have become temporarily unemployed as a result of closures. Additionally, the state governments of Ohio and Kentucky have each ensured that people left jobless by COVID-19 containment measures can receive unemployment benefits until the state of emergency is lifted.

Still, Meyer said, she’s worried about how long an economy can remain healthy while surviving off injections of government capital.

“Because a system, even with the amount of money we’ve pumped into this from a federal, state and local standpoint, that can only sustain for so long,” she said. “You need capitalism actually working and people working and employing and spending their own money.”

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She encouraged people who want to keep the Cincinnati strong to shop — safely and mindfully — at local businesses, taking advantage of online ordering and delivery options where available.

“You can be safe and abide by all of the CDC requirements and still support businesses,” she said.