By Jessie Morgan
Nearly a month after Gov. Tom Wolf issued a non-essential business shutdown, the majority of Pennsylvanians now find themselves working from home – or not working at all.
On March 19, 2020, Wolf issued a statewide order to temporarily close all “non-life-sustaining” businesses throughout the commonwealth. Aside from medical institutions, the only brick-and-mortar businesses allowed to remain open include those that contribute to the natural resource and mining industry, laundromats, specialty food stores, insurance agencies and accounting services.
That means that almost every other business, large and small – clothing and department stores, sit-down restaurants, labor and construction, specialty and beauty services, manufacturers and many more – will be facing unprecedented financial loss in the coming weeks and months.
The National Federation of Independent Business described the shutdown as the “strictest curtailment of commerce in the nation”.
Among the first to go were dine-in restaurants and bars, which were ordered by the Wolf Administration to close effective on March 16, 2020. The order was placed in effect to help ensure proper social distancing.
“Social distancing is essential as more Pennsylvanians are testing positive for COVID-19”, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “By taking these steps now, we can protect public health and slow the spread of this virus.”
As they switch gears to help fight the virus, small businesses across the state are feeling the effects of COVID-19 in different ways.
What was once a booming bar and grille featuring massive burgers and live music every week, the historic Penn’s Tavern Restaurant of Sunbury, PA is now completely empty. The only remaining employees – two chefs – struggle to maintain an adequate sales quota.
“After laying off 27 people, our overhead has dropped significantly,” Mike Albon, kitchen manager, said. “Only doing takeout limits us to what we have on hand and what we can produce. Our ordering of products has also dropped significantly, going from three to four thousand dollars’ worth of food per week to less than $500 dollars.”
Albon said that the option of closing the restaurant has been discussed, but only as a last resort.
On April 1, 2020, Wolf announced that all 67 Pennsylvania counties will be under stay-at-home orders, which he deemed at a press conference as “the most prudent option to stop the spread of COVID-19 across our commonwealth, where cases continue to grow daily.”
With no one permitted to leave their homes (except for essential errands and travel), no one is able to purchase services that require a physical presence – traveling, planning a party or getting their nails done.
This means all specialty services must come to a screeching halt.
Kathy Pensyl, who runs an independent beauty salon in Shamokin, PA, is already feeling the financial and emotional effects of mandated closure.
“Thankfully, I have a small savings cushion to fall back on. If I didn’t, I honestly do not know how I would sleep at night worrying how my bills would have gotten paid,” Pensyl said. “Emotionally it is difficult because when you are usually surrounded by so many different people coming in and out of the salon and then have to be separated, it’s not easy.”
Despite her anxieties, Pensyl chooses to keep her eyes on the horizon, crediting God for maintaining hope in the midst of each setback.
“I know that God is the source for everything,” Pensyl said. “He is faithful and I knew this long before this virus reared its ugly head. I know our world is different now…but He is not!”
Though doors are closing for many industries, some small businesses are beginning to see new opportunities arise from the COVID-19 crisis.
Midtown Scholar, a popular bookstore and café among Messiah students and Harrisburg residents, has found a variety of ways to function after closing its brick-and-mortar store.
“The way everything accelerated was so surreal and scary, but it made us pivot and adapt in really creative ways,” manager Alex Brubaker said. The bookstore has begun to embrace its online platform, hosting virtual events with authors, running more signed pre-order campaigns and providing special promotions for online customers.
More time spent at home may be encouraging more people to take up a good novel, whether it be from an e-reader or an old-fashioned hardcopy. Regardless, Midtown Scholar is seeing a rapid increase in sales, a trend that may influence their sales even after the pandemic.
“It’s been touching to see the community step up and support those small businesses that are struggling at the moment,” said Brubaker. “We’re going to fight to stay afloat during this difficult time.”