Owning a small business during a pandemic

Posted: January 18, 2021

Small business owners in Minnesota face big challenges due to the pandemic

Small businesses across the country are still reeling from the ramifications of the executive orders, spurred by COVID-19, that enforced temporary closures on certain establishments. It’s a time of instability and unforeseen outcomes, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up soon. 

“You’re in a constant limbo,” said David Fhima, founder and executive chef of Fhima’s MPLS, Artisan & Spice and Mother Dough Bakery. “It’s like being in the middle of the ocean, and if you know that there is a boat on its way, you are much more likely to survive. If you don’t, you’re much more likely to die out of despair. Yeah, so not having an answer [about the future] is terrible.” 

David Fhima

Around a month after the initial onslaught of shutdowns and other COVID precautions the federal government released an effort to aid small businesses called the Paycheck Protection Program. This consisted of over 4.9 million loans that totaled to about $521 billion. These came from the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), with the purpose of providing help and maintaining stability for small businesses, self-employed workers, and some non-profit organizations. 

“We applied for some loans, we got some. We applied for some others…we didn’t get them,” said Fhima. “But…they don’t help you solve permanently the situation of pretty much losing 100% of your revenue. There is nothing that can do that, except for being open.” 

While aid is being provided to keep small-business doors open, it isn’t enough to rely on just outside help, and since being open isn’t an option, business owners have to find new ways to stay afloat. 

“If I don’t have the business, then I shorten my hours to make up for it,” said Suzanne Erickson, owner of Jungle Red Salon Spa Gallery in downtown Minneapolis. 

Through all this, the most affected small-business industry is restaurants; the higher risk it presents demands more changes to be made to accommodate health guidelines. 

“We do take-out, but take-out business is minimal to non-existent. So that’s not a lot, you know, so how do you try and keep your lights on and keep your staff working, and stuff like that?” said Fhima. 

One direction Fhima has taken is using their resources to help serve the community. They cook 3000 meals a week for different schools, and meals for different organizations such as Perspectives Inc. Some of this is done on their own dime, while also receiving assistance and donations from the community. Not only does this help maintain the staff and the restaurants relevancy, but it provides positivity in a time of uncertainties. 

 “We’re finding a lot of creative ways trying to do that [stay open], and this is one of them. But of course, when you’re able to help the community, while also having staff work, it serves two purposes, and it works really well,” said Fhima. 

Now, once again, most businesses have to brace themselves for another wave of shutdowns. 

“Closing our store didn’t heavily affect our income, but it still made me sad,” said freshman Tenzin Chosang, whose family owns Lama Bazaar, a small retail store on Grand Avenue.

On Nov. 10, the White House Corona Task Force officially named the state of Minnesota a “Red Zone” which is the most critical level a state can be at. In response to this Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota re-established closings on many places of business. 

“We get back on our feet again, and they say, no you have to shut down for four weeks…I think this is gonna last a lot longer than four weeks,” said Fhima. “You get to a point where you’re not surprised anymore…the new normal is the abnormal.” 

Even though not all forms of business have closed this time, being operational doesn’t ensure a sense of normalcy. 

Even though I’m operating, it still affects my business…people were afraid to come back into the salon, because they were afraid of getting COVID,” said Erickson. 

While there is a lot of indecision about a plan for aid from the federal government, Minnesotan lawmakers decided to take matters into their own hands. On December 14th, the Minnesota Legislature sanctioned a $242 million deal to enact a Covid-19 relief package. The purpose would be to assist struggling businesses, and also help support people among the 125,000, whose unemployment checks would be due by Dec. 26. Another aspect of the deal will aid these people, in the form of, lengthening unemployment insurance for another 13 weeks. The deal will provide funding for businesses that closed due to the Governor’s order. This includes places such as restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. 

Now, despite Walz’s executive orders, mandating business closures, numerous business owners have publicly announced their intention to reopen. On top of this, adversaries of the current orders, put in place by the governor, are lobbying Minnesota legislators to vote in favor of  ending Walz’s emergency powers when the Legislature reassembles. 

On January 11th, restaurants, bars, and other venues were permitted to open at 50% indoor capacity along with a 10pm curfew. The reopening of businesses will generate essential revenue for struggling independently-owned businesses that were previously barred from operating. A group, compiled of 27 different bars and restaurants, had recently come together to pursue a lawsuit against the state regarding the closures of businesses in their field. But, after the new developments, the group proclaimed that they were rescinding the charges put forward. 

With each day, we get a better understanding of the events we are living. But until the dark clouds lift, can we really anticipate what the future holds? 

“There’s a tremendous amount of talent in our community that we want to foster,” Fhima said, “so support your local small business.”


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