Local businesses close, struggle with uncertainty during pandemic
A half dozen customers sipped midday beers and watched President Donald Trump address the nation at Brookside Bar and Grill in Marine on March 18. Most were out of work, or about to be.
That evening at 5 p.m. the restaurant closed its doors indefinitely along with all other bars and restaurants in Minnesota. Wisconsin businesses followed close behind, leaving both sides of the river in a perpetual state of worry.
“For the last couple of weeks, this was our biggest fear,” said co-owner Mandi Burmeister. “And now it’s come true.”
Brookside doesn’t have the capability to provide takeout orders, as some restaurants in the area have begun doing. That means all of their stock is just sitting on the shelves until they have the ability to reopen.
“We’re going to lose a lot of product,” said Grayson Taylor, another owner at Brookside. “None of our perishable items are going to last.”
Savannah Harland works off and on at Brookside, as well as at another restaurant in Stillwater. She filed for unemployment as soon as she found out she would be out of work, but that may do little to make up for her lost income.
Waitressing tips are generally not calculated in unemployment benefits, so Harland and other servers across the country must rely on only their hourly wages to determine how much they will receive in relief. Depending on the state, these wages can sometimes be as low as four dollars an hour.
“I have enough money to pay for my rent and student loans for this month, but if it passes two weeks, I don’t think I have enough money to live,” she said. “Right now it’s so uncertain, we just don’t know.”
Across the river in Osceola, some restaurants and cafes are remaining open for take out orders. Cascade Nutrition specializes in hyper health conscious, meal replacement shakes and smoothies. Owner Nikol Harvey said she’s not overly worried about her business.
“People have to eat,” she said. “And they’re always looking for options for energy and great nutrition.”
She said she’s mindful of the health risks posed by this pandemic but said it can also be an opportunity to teach people about maintaining good health.
“I think people don’t realized that sleep and good nutrition are so impactful on your immune health and right now with everything coming to the forefront I think people are a little bit more conscious about those things,” she said. “So will it be better or worse for our business, only time will tell. But it is definitely an opportunity to educate people more on what they can do to protect themselves.”
Non food service businesses in the area are also being hit hard by the outbreak. Donna Carpenter owns Uptown Gifts in downtown Osceola. She will be closing her doors permanently in the next month, due in no small part to COVID-19.
“As soon as that news came out I knew I wasn’t going to survive this,” she said. “I was just holding on day to day and I don’t have four weeks to have no income.”
Carpenter said prior to the outbreak business had picked up just enough for her to stay open. She had considered a small loan to keep the lights on, but that once the coronavirus hit she knew that was no longer an option.
“As soon as I saw what was happening in California I knew,” she said.
Just up the street from Uptown Gifts. The Looking Glass antique store has also closed, although its shutdown is temporary. Owner Gwen Wright said summers in Osceola are peak time for business. She said she worries about how long this pandemic will continue and what that could do to the tourism rush come May and June.
“You rely on your summers to get through your winters,” she said. “So I’m a little nervous.”
That fear echoes through every business owner and citizen of the country. The uncertainty is reinforced daily with news of more cases, more shut downs and even bigger sell offs on Wall Street. Uncharted territory has arrived, and all that’s left to do is keep calm, push through it and maintain hope.
“I have hope,” Wright said. “That after everything passes that we’ll be able to rebuild.”