Coronavirus has made a staggering impact on all of our lives and work. From February to April of 2020 the unemployment rate in the U.S. rose to 12%. The unemployment rate hasn’t been this high since 1933 when it was 25%. High unemployment rates are a terrifying prospect. Not only do they contribute to a rapidly declining economy, it means our friends and family will be out of jobs. Support from across the country has been shown for those who lost their jobs in the coronavirus shutdown. But for those who own businesses that were shutdown unemployment can be an even more daunting prospect.
Small business owners across America closed their businesses in March. This mass shutdown was influential in controlling coronavirus cases in the spring. And, as a result of the shutdown, thousands of these small businesses will not be reopening. Because although larger businesses in America had savings and hundreds of stores they could close without taking on too much damage. Small businesses did not have this luxury. Small businesses, especially those owned by minorities, have been disproportionately and unfairly affected by the mishandling of the coronavirus.
The federal and many state governments put small businesses across the country in danger. This was a direct result of a key mistakes they made and we can reflect upon what could have been when looking at other countries who have, for the most part, reopened safely. The first thing that set us up for failure during the coronavirus was President Trump being ridiculously unequipped to handle any national crisis. His lack of consistent information and weak leadership influenced state governments. Small business owners across the country felt this in the form of their businesses being shut down with little to no warning and a lack of financial support.
In order to get a first person perspective on the effect of coronavirus and its mishandling on small businesses, I interviewed a small business owner from my hometown. Mallory Cunningham owns a salon, called Mallory’s Beautiful You, in an Indiana town. In March Mallory’s salon was shut down with a little more than 24 hours of warning. These mass shutdowns of businesses did help flatten the curve and were essential to keeping Coronavirus numbers down. But because of the mishandling of these shutdowns many business owners were negatively affected. Mallory provided an inside view of what it was like to be running a thriving business one day and out of work the next.
[Isabella]: Thank you so much for being here. The reason I wanted to have an interview was to show the perspective of small businesses, and not big corporations that had a lot of fall back money or stores they could close. So the first thing I wanted to ask you was when did you realize that coronavirus was going to become a big problem for your salon.
[Mallory]: I think it was when Illinois and Ohio shut down, I knew we were going to be next. And then on March 23rd they gave me until March 24th, a Tuesday, to be closed. I’m gonna remember this for the rest of my life. Cause I can remember the day it was, the exact time… Then he (Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb) came on again on Monday the 23rd and said we have until the 24th at midnight.
This 24 hour warning came as a nearly impossible limit to most business owners. Not only was their income lost but businesses that they worked for every day of their lives were shut down as well. The sacrifice that these small business owners made to keep us safe from coronavirus is rarely recognized in full. Many small businesses, in fact, were never able to open again. In fact more than 100,000 small businesses were permanently closed by May 12. Mallory was very lucky to have saved enough to keep her business afloat for the 48 days that the shutdown was mandated.
[Isabella]: Going into the shutdown… What was your worst case scenario?
[Mallory]: That I didn’t think I was possibly going to open. I remember leaving and standing in the parking lot and I actually took a picture. The sky was actually a pretty night… and I was like — well I may not ever be able to do hair in here again.
[Isabella]: Did you think you wouldn’t be able to financially open up the business again?
[Mallory]: I knew financially I was going to be okay for awhile. But there’s a point when its like, I can’t be stupid, if it was six months to a year it would take all my savings… I have to be smart about it. I probably would have had to eventually close… Because, you know, I did what I needed to do as a business owner. I saved money. But if it ends up being 6 months to a year you have to step back and say, “Okay I can’t just take my life savings.”
Some of the hardest days for owners of small businesses during the shutdown were the ones spent in confusion. Many businesses, salons in particular, were not given any idea of when they could open. This issue of inconsistent information is widespread when it comes to Coronavirus. People across the world, particularly in America, have been misled or blindsided. Mallory’s experience of being left in the dark for so long echoes in many who lost their income, their home, or their place of business.
Part of the fear small business owners had during shutdown was for their staff. In a small business environment business owners often know their staff on a personal level and this makes mass layoffs and salary deductions all the more painful. But the short notice and lack of financial support during shutdowns made those scenarios unavoidable for most small businesses.
[Isabella]: So how did you feel for your staff going into the shutdowns?
[Mallory]: Anytime there was something updated for unemployment I would send them the email or give them the links for whatever kind of financial assistance they could get. Mostly it was a loan because we’re self employed. Then they opened unemployment to the self employed so I was just sending different links and text messages because I could see where it could get pretty confusing. Especially since the self employed part they opened was actually a whole different part that they had to add on.
The economic toll was, unfortunately, unavoidable when it came to coronavirus shutdowns. But because of how those shutdowns and the financial needs of the unemployed were handled, that economic hit is much larger than it should have been. Because of weak government policies and the general rejection in scientific evidence our country is still, literally, plagued by coronavirus. And that, in and of itself, is causing economic disaster and unneeded stress on small business owners. I asked Mallory three final questions.
[Isabella]: What was the hardest part of the shut down for you?
[Mallory]: Going back to I had been working on this for so many years and the government could just shut me down. And I had no income coming in so I had to think of other ways to make income come in… Which I’m sure other people have felt as well, it’s been stressful for everybody.
[Isabella]: Especially for people who run businesses, because, even if you’re on unemployment assistance for the self employed, it’s an added risk that you have to take care of this business. Along that line of thinking, what’s something people can do to help small businesses that are struggling, that have reopened.
[Mallory]: Really just show them support. Come in and get services, if it’s a restaurant order food from them. Just being that loyal clientele, sharing things on social media, passing out business cards.
[Isabella]: So I just have one last question. What do you wish the government had done differently to help you?
[Mallory]: Honestly, my biggest thing was financially I had been saving for an emergency. So if we had to be closed for another couple months, I could do it. But, like I said, if it got to six months or a year you just have to step and say, I can’t spend all my savings. I was most frustrated when he (Governor Holcomb) wasn’t mentioning salons and wasn’t giving us an opening date…. I just hope we don’t need another shut down, because I think most of us small businesses -even big businesses- couldn’t make it through another shutdown.
[Isabella]: It sounds like you wanted more recognition and action from the government and there wasn’t much consistent information either. And I can tell there’s a lot of frustration with how you felt the government disregarded small businesses in a way.
Mallory’s story is only one among hundreds of thousands of small business owners in America. So many of them were directly impacted by the mistakes made by the government when handling the shutdown. It is important to share these narratives so that we can learn from these mistakes. So we can elect better officials and be prepared to economically support small businesses and their owners. What you can do right now is register to vote, show up at the polling stations and vote, and as always support your small businesses. As Mallory said, “Just being that loyal clientele, sharing things on social media, passing out business cards.”