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Letters from the storefront: Coronavirus' crushing impact on small business in America

Coronavirus' crushing impact on small business in America
Coronavirus' crushing impact on small business in America 05:43

Over the past few weeks, coronavirus has taken the lives of thousands of Americans. But it's also had dire impacts on the U.S. economy — delivering a devastating blow for hundreds of thousands of restaurants, stores and other small businesses across the U.S., which find themselves suddenly cut off from their customers as Americans seek refuge from the lethal pandemic.

The economy lost 701,000 jobs by the middle of last month. The unemployment rate rose to 4.4%. At least 10 million people applied for jobless benefits in the last two weeks of March, overwhelming many states' unemployment offices. 

Small businesses have been hit especially hard by the crisis, as they often have fewer resources to draw on during a slowdown, and many have been forced closed by public health measures.  

We asked our viewers to share some of their own stories or that we've come across of how coronavirus has impacted their financial futures.

Molly Moon, small business owner, Seattle, Washington:

"I own an ice cream company called Molly Moon's homemade ice cream here in Seattle. I had over 100 employees before coronavirus and did about 7.9 million dollars in ice cream sales last year and I was on track to break the 10 million dollar mark which almost no women-owned business does. I now have 9 employees and I am selling 5,000 dollars worth of ice cream pints to grocery stores a month. Which isn't even enough to pay for the chefs and delivery drivers left in the company."

"This recovery is going to take small businesses years if we're going to recover at all and I'm really afraid that without more stimulus help in another bill, all of our Favorite small businesses in our cities and towns might be lost forever."

Angie Bowen, small business owner, Owasso, Oklahoma

"My business is a part of the gig economy which means that we work large and small events, basketball games football games or concerts. So as long as people are not allowed to gather together, we have no prospect of making money."

"And then to make matters worse, I got a call from the state of Oklahoma yesterday that my unemployment claim had been denied because they are currently not set up for independent contractors."

Laura Ortiz, former Staples Center employee

"My family you know they just text me 'Mom, what's going to happen? You know that we depend on your job and then what's going to happen after this?'"

Weslynne Therasse, nurse practitioner

"I was a nurse practitioner, I was practicing at a private office in downtown Manhattan and I was laid off due to a decrease in patient volume...I'm teacher, mom, nurse, provider, everything. I'm all of it. I mean, it's a challenge."

Fiona Carty, designer, California

"I'm feeling really scared, I feel like humanity and society right now is kind of in this - it's almost like you're driving through really, really thick fog and you can only see like five feet in front of you...I won't really know how to cover rent after May, and we're supposed to be quarantined until May, so that's going to be interesting...I think that not a lot of people within this period of time of not working are going to be able to make back whenever they're able to start working, so that's accumulated debt."

Sangeeta Lakhani, restaurant owner, Ohio

"I've had people working here for 7 years, you know? Like these are my kids. I feel a responsibility towards them like i do toward my own children." 

"These kids aren't sitting on savings accounts. these are hourly workers. they're tipped workers. As a parent to not know how to help your children through something like this, it's heartbreaking, you know? I don't know how to help them."

Jeff Roseman, small business owner, Darien, Connecticut 

"I am a small family business owner contending with the duality of taking care of my family and looking out for the financial well-being of my company's employees. Referring to my "extended family" as employees fails to acknowledge what they mean to me. Essentially, I work side-by-side with friends who treat my business as if it were their own."

"Now a Pandemic has taken its pervasive devastation on the economics of our company. Family business owners feel guilt, shame and discouragement if those who depend on us are harmed.  Regardless, if the origin of the hurt is no fault of our own, it is a business owner's job to protect the ones we love."

Geoff Tracy, restaurant owner, Washington D.C.

"In our little world, our kitchens at Lias and Chef Geoff's are busy packing up meals to go. Today is our 17th day as a take-out and delivery only restaurant. The bustling sounds of the kitchen are comforting; but the silence of the dining room, bar, and patio is deafening."

"I have been in this business since I was 17. The last two weeks have been the hardest … and the most inspiring. Never could I have dreamed up such a devastating blow to our business. Never could I have imagined laying off so many people."

Shy Pahlevani, Founder & President, HUNGRY catering, New York, NY

"What a difference a month makes. A few weeks ago, HUNGRY was riding a high...Fast forward to mid-March and, suddenly, nobody's looking for catering. Social distancing and shelter-in-place forced offices - our entire customer base - to close...

But rather than lay off our chefs, delivery drivers and hardworking sales staff to weather the storm, we decided to do what entrepreneurs do best: pivot. In less than two weeks, we launched HUNGRY@Home - a contactless, subscription-based meal service that delivers the same high-quality, local chef-prepared food our customers have come to love directly to people's homes. And for every HUNGRY@Home meal sold, we're donating four to help feed people in need…

Of course, like everyone else, we're still acclimating to this new normal and adapting day-by-day. And, although this month has been one the hardest times our business has ever seen, it's also been one of the most rewarding."

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