By Nathan Ham
As America braces for the unknown with the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus from coast to coast, it comes as no surprise that everyone is worried about their health and the health of their loved ones.
What might go unnoticed are the hours upon hours put in by local, small business owners and employees that are trying their best to keep up and keep the doors open during a scary time.
“We are here, open regular hours and will try and keep our staff their regular hours and keep them employed,” said Jeff Collins, owner and operator of Peabody’s Wine & Beer.
With students on an extended spring break at Appalachian State, classes shifting to online-only for the remainder of the spring semester and tourism taking a hit across the country with the threat of the coronavirus now is the time when your favorite local businesses need your help the most.
“It’s important for all businesses. Support them as much as you possibly can,” said Jeff.
The staff at Peabody’s is doing everything recommended by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) to offer the cleanest possible environment for patrons coming to stock up on their favorite craft beers and wine.
“The building may smell a little ‘bleachier’ than normal. We’re using spray bottles and disinfectants on the surfaces that people touch regularly and hand sanitizers are available. We will be as prudent and as diligent as a business can be,” Jeff said.
Peabody’s will begin offering curbside pickup service if you call ahead or email ahead to let them know what you want. Jeff added that they are also exploring possible delivery options for their customers as well, as all businesses are making adjustments to their services to carry forward.
Just a little way up Highway 105 from Peabody’s is the always-popular Troy’s Diner. Owner Sandy Byrum knows that keeping busy and keeping the restaurant open means a lot to her customers and hard-working staff.
“We need to stay open, not as much for me but for our staff who lives paycheck to paycheck and students trying to put themselves through college. Even though they are not having classes, they still have to work,” said Sandy. “Everybody support your local restaurants because we need you and you need us.”
The diner employees have been working hard to keep the restaurants clean, from the door handles right down to the sugar packets.
“We are bleaching every table, every side of the table, every salt, pepper, sugar pack, ketchup, mustard; everything a customer touches between seatings. We’re wiping off doorknobs and handles inside and out,” said Sandy. “Any employees that are not feeling well are asked not to come in and we hope everybody that has symptoms are smart enough to stay home.”
Sandy says that customers who want to place to-go orders can have them brought out to their vehicles if they do not want to come inside.
“We as restaurant owners need to keep the general population safe but they also need to keep us safe on their end,” she said.
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce is doing its part to help local businesses announce any changes to their store hours, operations such as curbside pickup at restaurants, online payments, delivery options and temporary closings. All of that information can be found at boonechamber.com/localresponse. The chamber also launched a #KeepBooneHealthy campaign to bring awareness to important public information surrounding the virus.
“It also helps rally people to make as many local purchasing decisions as possible during this time period. Many businesses have communicated procedural and operational changes over the weekend. Using this hashtag is a way we can aggregate the efforts of all of our small businesses to maintain healthy environments for their staff and customers,” said David Jackson, President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to the efforts to boost local businesses across the High Country, the chamber is seeking anyone interested in volunteering their time to help out local establishments that might be in need.
“As you can imagine, there are numerous needs for volunteers and support throughout our community. As you all know, many of our small businesses run on very thin margins at this time of year. With App State students and faculty off campus for the foreseeable future, any additional volume we can help generate through our local community would be greatly appreciated, provided it is done in a safe and responsible manner from a health standpoint. Many local agencies and non-profits are spending time and resources to ensure the health and safety of our most vulnerable populations. If you, your staff or your family, are interested in any volunteer opportunities during this time, please let us know. We are compiling a list to share with our local school system and various non-profit agencies of willing businesses that would like to lend a helping hand,” said Jackson. “In this time of difficult news and mass change, one thing has remained consistent—the compassion shown by the residents of the High Country. There have been so many heartwarming stories of outreach and support already. We know that as the next hours, days and weeks bring more change, we will be able to count on our community to step forward and provide assistance.”
To further plan for the potential economic hit small businesses will take during this rough time, Governor Roy Cooper has requested a disaster declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration. If this declaration is granted, small business owners would be able to receive disaster loans to help with financial obligations and operating expenses.
“I’m asking the SBA for assistance so we can get relief to help business owners in our state weather the economic impacts of COVID-19,” said Governor Cooper. “We know that the new Coronavirus is already impacting businesses and this financial assistance will help.”