Gephardt: As Utah Reopens, What Will Small Businesses Have To Do To Weather the Storm?

May 6, 2020, 10:25 PM | Updated: 10:54 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Many businesses have been given the green light to reopen, but owners are finding it’s not that simple and many may not be able to weather the storm brewed up by COVID-19.

We are already seeing some of the biggest businesses fail. J. Crew and Gold’s Gym have filed for bankruptcy, and Neiman Marcus and Hertz appear to be not far behind.

Earnings reports from publically traded companies show many more are teetering on the edge of going under – including some movie chains, airlines and other department stores.

The KSL Investigators talked to dozens of business owners and asked, “Are you going to survive?” The hard reality is many just don’t know because there is just too much unknown about how long the pandemic will go on and its lasting impact. Some businesses have enough financial resources to last a few years, while for others, it was a matter of weeks.

“There is a mixture of emotions,” businesses owner Josh Rosenthal told KSL about having to shut down his boutique store, Creek Tea.

When we spoke to Rosenthal, it was garage sale day – he was unloading everything from the remaining inventory he could. Rosenthal said the store had a lot of debt before the pandemic hit and ultimately, it did his store in. Still, Rosenthal saw a silver lining.

Josh Rosenthal, owner of Creek Tea, said the disruption caused by COVID-19 proved to be too much. He’s closing his store.

“In some ways, it’s like mourning,” he said. “Also excitement – thinking about how I am going to have to reinvent.”

The doors to The King’s English Bookshop remain closed to walk-in customers. Co-owner Anne Holman said the 43-year-old business has embraced selling books online, as well as delivery and curbside pick-up. But will they survive?

“I think we will,” Holman said. “I hope a lot of small businesses do because they are pivoting and finding different ways to do it.”

“It’s going to be a huge struggle,” said economist Dean Baker. Baker co-founded the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and he is a visiting economics professor at the University of Utah.

“We’re going to have to change the patterns,” Baker said as he described how the virus is forcing all aspects of business to adapt.

“People are not just going to pick up and go to restaurants the way they used to,” he explained. “They are not going to fly the way they used to. They aren’t going to be going to movies, sporting events – I don’t mean to rule that out. But we’re going to have to change the patterns there.”

Businesses that cannot adapt – or will not – were the ones most likely to be in trouble he said. Especially as more and more consumers changed their shopping habits.

“Once people get used to a different habit, a lot of people will stick with that,” said Baker. “It doesn’t mean everyone will but let’s just say half the people who switched from getting clothes, books, whatever in brick-and-mortar stores to online shopping – continue buying online (after the virus goes away), that’s a huge loss of business to those brick-and-mortar stores and many won’t be able to recover.”

Corporate leaders were panicked, according to a survey of CEOs by YPO, an association making up more than 29,000 chief executives.

Eleven percent said they fear their business will not survive and 19% of wholesalers expected to go under, as well 19% of those in the business of education.

Thirty percent of the leaders in aviation said their business is at risk of failure. But, one of the hardest-hit sectors was the restaurant and hospitality industry. More than four out of 10 CEOs said their business might not survive.

That’s a prospect executive chef Matt Lake faces. He owns Alamexo in Salt Lake’s downtown. Even though some restrictions have been lifted, he had no plans to reopen his in-store dining anytime soon.

Chef and owner Matt Lake of Alamexo tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt that his restaurant’s future is not certain as current guidelines would only allow him to use four tables, not enough to recover operating expenses.

Yes, Lake is worried about COVID-19 walking through this front door. But he was not sure if there is a point in opening up tables when current social distancing guidelines keep him limited to just four tables.

“Even having those tables at capacity and flipping those four tables, we would just never be able to cover the expenses of operating. Restaurants of our ilk operate on an extremely tight margin.”

So, for now, Alamexo continued his takeout service with a mere staff of just three people. Will it survive?

“That depends on how long this goes, to be honest,” Lake said. “So we’re just going to see. We’re trying to make the best of it as much as we can.”

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

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Gephardt: As Utah Reopens, What Will Small Businesses Have To Do To Weather the Storm?