Local businesses manage the impacts of lockdown

Kansas City's small businesses are coping with changes in operation in COVID-19 lockdown.

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Many businesses face immediate shutdowns or little to no customers due to the increasing threat of COVID-19 Mar. 31. These businesses are challenging the threat of closing their doors permanently due to the increased loss of money during this time. photo illustration by Becca Speier

by Cara Barone, Writer

Mayor Quinton Lucas placed Kansas City on lockdown March 21,  ordering residents to stay at home except for essential activities such as grocery shopping. The order specifies that all restaurants shift to pick-up and delivery only, and all other non-essential businesses must “cease all in-person activities” to slow the spread of COVID-19. Betty Bremser, owner of Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard, has adjusted how Foo’s serves its customers to conform to social distancing standards. While it’s only about once a week, Foo’s has implemented “quarts and pints days” on Saturdays where customers can pick up a pre-made custard mix to take home.

“My customers have been amazing,” Bremser said. “They are very respectful of the 6 foot distancing. We haven’t had any lines at all… If there is one person in the store, people usually wait outside the door until that person has left, and it’s just worked really, really well.”

Despite attempts to maintain some operation, being open just six hours a week isn’t nearly enough to supplement Bremser’s usual income.

“It’s not at all enough to pay my rent,” Bremser said. “And Brookside rent is pretty high — people are probably pretty aware of that. I’m working with the owners of the property right now. They’re working with individuals on a case-by-case basis.”

Meanwhile at Prairie Village Animal Hospital, where senior Anna Swanson works as a veterinary assistant, business is open for crucial procedures only. In addition to limiting the animals they treat, the hospital has made major adjustments to the way it operates. Clients are no longer allowed to come inside. Instead, all communication is done over the phone.

“If it is essential — like if there’s actually something wrong with the dog and it has to be treated immediately — then there’s an assigned person who is wearing a full hazard suit that goes out, gets the dog from the car, brings it inside and then we treat it from there and just call the owner over the phone and let them know what is happening,” Swanson said.

For owners of any non-essential businesses, the lockdown means no in-person interaction at all. Such is the case for Sharon Kennedy, owner of Pistachios Monograms and Gifts, who is now forced to rely on online purchases and faceless drop-offs. She estimates Pistachios has seen about a 75% decrease in sales during what is normally her busiest season, with Mother’s Day and graduations.

“The storefront’s always been the biggest part of my business, so having that closed is a big impact,” Kennedy said.

Likewise, Foo’s and the PVAH have taken their own financial hits due to coronavirus lockdown.

“Not only are hours cut, which means that we’re not allowing as many clients to come in on a daily basis, we are turning down a lot of our main moneymakers, which is for the most part just routine visits like vaccines, and we’re turning down all of them,” Swanson said.

Bremser, who is in the process of applying for grants, worries about what the future holds for Foo’s in light of the course of the pandemic.

“What is all this going to look like on the other side?” Bremser said. “…Are people going to be comfortable going out again in large groups? …Those people who have been affected economically, how long will it be before they’re able to get back out and spend money and be a part of the economy? I don’t know. It’s all really, really, really scary, and it’s unknown, I guess. And when you own a small business, you kind of have to know stuff.”

Swanson encourages consumers to keep on patronizing local businesses.

“We do urge our customers to continue supporting local businesses because, just as any local business is right now, [the animal hospital]’s kind of struggling to keep up with everything,” Swanson said.

Despite this uncertainty, Bremser feels the support of the community.

“I think that Brookside residents and Brookside patrons are incredible people, ” Bremser said. “They humble me every day, and they want us to succeed, and they want us to be there. And they know that if they’re still getting a paycheck and they’re in a position to help us out, they will. And that’s just the truth — that’s all there is to it.”