Three weeks in, small businesses ‘devastated’ by COVID-19 shutdown

(The Center Square) – Nearly three weeks in, small businesses across Illinois are adapting to the governor’s stay-at-home order, but some business owners are worried their businesses won’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order that went into effect March 21. The order shuttered all non-essential business operations. The order limits any group gathering, public or private, of 10 people or more, but it includes specific carve-outs for grocery stores, hardware stores and other essential businesses.

Tracy Dowell, the owner of the Springfield Running Center, said since the stay-at-home order, she’s been taking appointments for essential workers that need shoes and has revamped her operations to focus on e-commerce.

Other factors, such as the cancelation or suspension of school sports, have compounded the losses.

“We’re in track season, this is our bread and butter, this is the biggest season, this is our Christmas, this is our Black Friday, and we lost it,” Dowell said.

Dowell said she has bonded with other small retail businesses.

“We’ve laughed and we’ve cried together throughout this and it’s devastating,” she said. “We don’t know if we’ll be able to stay open. And, what a loss for our community.”

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association said the pandemic has been crushing for retail businesses.

“The retail industry is being completely devastated, there’s no question about it,” Karr said. “It’s no one’s fault, but it is being absolutely devastated and I think there are real concerns given the importance of the retail industry to both state and local governments.”

Karr said retail sales taxes are the second-largest revenue stream for the state and the largest source of revenue for local governments.

Even small retail businesses that have adapted are struggling.

“I can’t compete with Walmart if somebody wants to go buy a cheap pair of shoes at Walmart online, or Kohl’s online or something,” Dowell said.

She said her local, loyal customers have helped keep her going.

Pritzker said this week he hopes government-issued small business loans can help keep entrepreneurs afloat during the pandemic.

“It’s devastating for the people who’ve closed their businesses,” he said.

“The idea that a virus is going to devastate your business is not something that anybody could have imagined, but here we are,” Pritzker said. “And we’ve got to stop the spread of this virus. We’ve got to save lives so that we can save livelihoods.”

The governor’s stay-at-home order runs through April 30.

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