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In One Community, Small Businesses Press On Amid Pandemic Shutdowns

03-24-2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic is infecting small businesses across the country as more and more people opt to stay at home and tighten their purse strings in the midst of an economic meltdown.

On Monday, the Federal Reserve offered a ray of hope. It said it will begin lending to small and large businesses to help them stay afloat.

In a statement, the Fed predicted "severe disruptions" for the economy as the coronavirus continues to spread. 

"Aggressive efforts must be taken across the public and private sectors to limit the losses to jobs and incomes and to promote a swift recovery once the disruptions abate," said the Fed.

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Those disruptions can already be seen on quiet streets in southeastern Virginia near CBN's Virginia Beach headquarters.

On Monday, sweeping new orders from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) temporarily closed many non-essential businesses and restricted restaurants to take-out and delivery orders only.

At the Cutlass Grille restaurant in Chesapeake, owner Shawn Dawkins oversaw 47 employees, including 25 full-time, just a few weeks ago. Now, he's operating with a staff of 9 -- all on part-time hours.

"The staffing is tough because everyone has their families they have to support so that was a difficult decision. But for the business to survive that was something I had to do," said Dawkins, who explained that sales have sharply fallen.

While his dining room no longer bustles, take-out orders and fist-bumping are steady. Giant bottles of hand sanitizer are available as soon as customers step through the door.

A few miles down the road, J.B. Anderson is working with half his staff at Taxus Street Coffee, a neighborhood pop-up business. 

The drinks are strictly to-go but Anderson says customers still enjoy the limited contact. 

"It's a good sense of normality in their day," he explained. "They look forward to it when they're home quarantined or just sort of on leave right now."

Donna McCartney owns TranquiliTea, a gluten-free tearoom in Chesapeake. The tearoom is closed but her curbside pick-up and delivery are available and McCartney says her customers still crave and are ordering her baked goods and other specialty items.

"I'm actually almost busier than I was before," she says.

But Dawkins, Anderson, and McCartney all realize that their hardship will likely get worse before it gets better. 

This Thursday's jobless claims report is expected to be historic. Consumer spending for restaurants, entertainment and retail are already down dramatically and analysts say it will continue to decline.

The new loans announced by the Fed will help, as will progress in fighting the virus. But ultimately, small businesses are depending on their local communities for the support that has become vital.

Anderson says he remembers when the hashtag #buylocal first became popular. Now, he says, it's essential.

"I think supporting local businesses will not just be like a hipster trend right now. It will be something that will sustain small communities and rural communities," he said.

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