Business owners in McDowell County have experienced economic downturns before and managed to survive. But nothing before in the past could have prepared them for the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve not seen anything close to this,” said Bruce Brown of Bruce’s Fabulous Foods. “We’ve seen recessions. We’ve seen lulls in business. We’ve seen prosperity. This situation is unique but that’s the challenge. To be able stay open and keep your employees working while remaining profitable is the logistical dilemma.”
Bruce’s Fabulous Foods has been serving customers in downtown Marion for 18 years. The popular eatery survived the 2008 recession. But like all other similar businesses in North Carolina, Bruce’s had to adapt when the governor ordered all eateries and bars to close for inside dining. Restaurants can still serve food but it has to be take-out, delivery or drive through service.
Bruce’s Fabulous Foods is staying open by serving customers through take-out or deliveries. On Tuesday, employee Chad Holland was busy preparing box lunches for customers at another local business. The restaurant recently got a call from the county’s Emergency Operations Center for delivery of between 30 to 50 box lunches.
Within the last several days, the city of Marion installed signs in the downtown showing where patrons can park for 10 minutes to get take-out or curbside service.
“The city putting up the signs has been a huge help,” said Brown to The McDowell News. “We have learned that we have to expand our services such as adding in deliveries and long as we all work together within each of our restaurants and with each other we will all be OK.”
Aaron Mathews of McDowell Local is another downtown restaurant owner who is keeping his business open through take-out service. He appreciates the support of the city of Marion, customers and fellow business owners alike.
“Everybody has been very supportive,” said Mathews to The McDowell News. “The city got us a designated parking space which we really appreciate and we have had visits from the city and the Marion Business Association and the McDowell Chamber of Commerce and they have checked on us.”
Like Brown, he is optimistic.
“I think this is a survivable thing,” said Mathews. “I really do.”
Heather Cotton, the city’s Planning and Development director, has worked to create a resource for businesses affected by COVID-19.
In partnership with economic agencies, the city of Marion created a COVID-19 Small Business Resource site, and a Web map with take-out and delivery options in the downtown. The map will evolve as more information becomes available and/or as changes occur, said Cotton.
The resource page includes links to information on programs that support small businesses, a map of take-out and delivery options in downtown, social media marketing tools, and a collection of information from the N.C. Main Street program.
The COVID-19 Small Business Resource page can be found here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/3da8b236645842b694406d1c4e79aa17
“We want to identify strategies that support our local business community, protect our economic prosperity, and grow our local economy in the months ahead,” reads the Web page. “We developed a survey to help us better understand the needs and impacts on our business community as a result of COVID-19. Your responses will help us become more knowledgeable of your needs and help us to be in the best position to provide assistance and resources that will benefit you and your business during these uncertain times.”
The downtown take-out and delivery option map can be found here: https://arcg.is/0Xbruz
But other businesses are going to feel the impact of COVID-19. On Monday, the governor announced other establishments in North Carolina would have to close their doors as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. They include bingo parlors, bowling alleys, indoor exercise facilities (gyms, yoga studios, martial arts facilities, indoor trampoline and rock-climbing facilities), health clubs, indoor pools, live performance venues, movie theaters, skating rinks, spas, sweepstakes lounges, video game arcades, barber shops, hair salons, nail salons, massage therapists and tattoo shops.
Grocery stores and restaurants providing takeout and delivery will remain open. Additionally, Gov. Cooper reminded North Carolinians to show restraint in buying groceries and supplies, according to a news release.
“I know today’s orders cause hardship for a lot of people. I do not treat these decisions lightly,” said the governor in the news release. “We have made them in the interest of health and safety.”
On Tuesday, Chris Harris, owner of City Barber Shop, and his fellow barbers were busy cutting hair as patrons flooded the long-time downtown business before 5 p.m. Wednesday. Furthermore, the barbers have to disinfect between each haircut.
“They’re flooding us,” said Chris Harris. “We have to clean so much between each haircut.”
The barbers at City Barber Shop are not doing beard or moustache trims to avoid being around people’s faces.
“It’s going to hurt us. There is no help for the self-employed,” said barber Mike Harris.
Furthermore, Chris Harris said he was informed by the governor’s office they cannot cut hair for clients at home. Only immediate family can get a haircut from a barber at home, he added.
Angela Horton is the founder of the Open Door to Health, a holistic wellness center in Marion. The Open Door to Health offers counseling, massage, acupuncture, health education, esthetician services, herbal supplements and more. It will be affected by the latest order from the governor.
“I can only speak for myself and I find myself a bit luckier than my other massage therapists who just do massage for a living,” said Horton to The McDowell News. “I do have my counseling which I’m doing through telehealth now. Many massage therapists who are in business for themselves and not working for an agency are going to really struggle as our state laws will now allow them to apply for unemployment. What will they do?”
Horton added she is trying to help her colleagues right now by not charging them rent and is looking at other ways to assist them so they can get through the next couple of months.
But it is much harder for customers to support a massage therapist, a hair stylist or an acupuncturist through this time than it is to support a restaurant.
“Our community will support business that has something to sell but all of us are definitely in a state of quandary,” said Horton to The McDowell News. “We need to find ways to assist businesses like massage therapy, barbershop owners, hair stylists, acupuncturist that have jobs that are in close contact with people but will not get assistance in many ways through local or state funds.”
Tina Wolfe with the McDowell Chamber of Commerce said local businesses can seek out her organization for advice and information.
“We want them to know that we are there for them,” she said to The McDowell News.
The Chamber of Commerce has created an online resource too. It can be found at https://www.mcdowellchamber.com/55243-2/
“We’ve also compiled important resources and information regarding economic assistance available for small businesses from local organizations as well as the Small Business Administration through the recent signing of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (CPRSA of COVID-19 BILL),” reads the Chamber’s online resource. “As new information is forthcoming, we will continue to update this section for our members and the community at large.”
Wolfe said an online town hall meeting might be held here similar to what the Asheville Chamber of Commerce did. The McDowell Chamber office is closed and chamber officials are working remotely from their homes.
Meanwhile, Baxter Healthcare, the largest private employer in McDowell and probably the largest manufacturing plant in western North Carolina, needs more workers immediately.
Manpower, the local hiring agency, reports it is now taking applications for all entry level positions for Baxter Healthcare at $14.25 an hour. For more information, call 828-652-8865 or apply online at www.manpower.com.