How are local, small businesses handling social distancing

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Some closed, remain open to public, fond alternate ways to operate

The economy on a local level is not exempt from issues created by COVID-19 (coronavirus).

In the bi-county area, people have seen businesses closed down completely or change their operating status to curbside, and some have decided to push through the pandemic.

One new local business that closed its doors completely until the threat was under control was Southern Standard in Monett.

Michael Locascio, co-owner of the restaurant, said the new business opened the week before Thanksgiving.

“We closed our doors last Thursday,” he said. “We went from a healthy business weeks away from paying off start up costs, to having our business stop on a dime.”

Due to the coronavirus limitations, the business did try to operate by carry-out orders only, but in a week’s time had only three take-out orders.

“The strip mall we are located in only has one business still open, Verizon,” he said. “Corporations and restaurants with a drive through option were still able to function, but those of us without a drive through didn’t have people coming in.”

At this time, the owners are unsure of when they will be able to reopen their doors.

“I am back in Alabama at this time,” Locascio said. “My family had not relocated to Missouri yet, so I came to be with them. Here, they have closed the schools for the remainder of the year.”

Locascio said the owners spoke with their bank and tried to pay off all of their vendors, but other than that, they had to cut their losses on some things.

“Most small businesses and restaurants need at least $1,000 in sales a day to continue to operate,” he said. “At the end, we were making less than $200 per day.

“Instead of going further into debt, we decided to weigh our options and find the best solution for the time.”

The restaurant owners said they plan on still coming back and opening back up, but they aren’t sure when that will be.

“We are waiting to see where we are with the business interruption insurance, as well as with the stimulus bill,” he said. “If the insurance kicks in, we do not have to rely on the stimulus bill.”

The restaurant employs 22 people, many of them high school students who live with their parents.

“We hope they are all able to come back when we are able to reopen,” Locascio said. “[Co-owner] Matthew Blair and I both had full-time day jobs separate from the restaurant, and we were furloughed. A lot of restaurant businesses are suffering during this time.”

In a different direction completely, Alyssa Vaughn, owner of Flying V Mercantile in Monett, has decided to keep her business operating normally for as long as possible.

“I have girls who work here that need steady income,” she said. “I am doing everything in my power to keep them safe, but also keep them employed.”

This June, the business will celebrate its fourth anniversary, and it has had a fully operational website for a couple of years for customers to order from.

“We have tried to slow down the traffic in the store by encouraging people to order online more,” Vaughn said. “We are offering curbside pick up and delivery in Monett.”

They have always offered free shipping and a lot of the local customers pick up in the store.

“We are also doing Facebook sales and live feeds for new arrivals,” Vaughn said. “So, instead of just seeing a photo of the new item, they can see how it fits in a video.”

Gift cards are also available online and can be spent online as well.

“We are doing everything we can and trying anything,” she said. “All of the items are getting sanitized and the clothes all get steamed anyway, but that offers another level of sanitation. Any surface touched by anyone is sanitized immediately.”

Trying to be creative to keep the doors open is the best option for Vaughn and her employees.

“I have three employees, two full-time and one part-time, then myself,” she said. “If things get to the point that we have to shut our doors, we will still ship orders. So, I will have one girl in the shop each day to fulfill those orders and to keep them working and receiving income.”

One thing new with the online shopping is that Vaughn has taken on Sezzle, which offer a like layaway option to her customers.

“They get to split up the payments over six weeks, but unlike layaway, they get the item right away,” she said. “When you order online and you get to the checkout options, click Sezzle, there is no credit check or anything.”

Vaughn said with the support of the local customers, she knows they will make it through this.

“We know we will get through it because of them,” she said. “Thank you.”

A staple of the Cassville square is Whitley Pharmacy, Soda Fountain and Deli.

Owner and Pharmacist Logan Whitley said the biggest change to business amid the coronavirus outbreak has been the development of curbside service.

“We have stopped allowing customers inside the store,” he said. “It has been strenuous, but our employees have been doing an excellent job, and we have received good feedback from our customers.”

Although it is not the same as the face-to-face interactions that most small businesses are built on, the customer loyalty is still there.

“The interactions with customers has always been one of my favorite things, and that is now deterred,” he said. “I can always talk to the customers over the phone with concerns or questions, but it isn’t the same.”

The deli and fountain business has also slowed down a bit, but are still functioning with curbside pick-up and delivery.

“The giftware side, however, has slowed to a halt,” Whitley said. “There is no way to shop unless we have online, which we don’t at this time.”

Whitley said if the social distancing continues for much longer, they do plan to open an online store with payment options.

“Without prescriptions, we have always offered delivery and mail-out options, and that will help us to keep going,” he said. “People will still need their medications.”

Whitley said he is thankful that he hasn’t lost any employees due to the outbreak.

“I don’t see that being an issue because we need them to work the curbside and delivery,” he said. “We did have one employee who decided to stay home for her own health, she will be back when this is all over.”

Although they have managed the last couple of weeks and developed a method of business that is working, Whitley said they won’t be able to operate like this forever.

“I suppose the pharmacy could, if it had to,” he said. “But, the giftware side is already stopped, and the deli, even though it is still serving loyal customers, is not as busy as usual.

“We are blessed with our faithful customers.”

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