When Meagan Wauters, the owner of Lyla’s: Clothing, Decor & More, walked into her store for the first time since COVID-19 had forced a temporary shut down, she cried. The store, named to honor her grandmothers, has been her dream for a long time, and April 12 will mark three years in the heart of downtown Plano. This year, she had to tell her employees that she couldn’t make a work schedule for the month of April. The anniversary will pass quietly.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and fear,” she says. “But our loyal customers have been shopping online and telling their friends. Our engagement on social media has been up too. I don’t think people realize how much a ‘like’ or comment means right now.”
Marta Gómez Frey is the director of the Collin County branch of the Small Business Development Center, and normally, her job is hopeful. Usually, the SBDC helps advise small businesses on how to create manageable growth, apply for loans, add employees, and deal in the day to day. Of the roughly 30,000 small businesses in Collin County, 500 to 600 of them are clients.
The best part of her work, Frey says, is seeing someone come in with a dream, and making it into a reality.
But Frey says she has never seen a crisis quite like this one.
As the threat of COVID-19 builds, many counties in Texas have ordered citizens to shelter in place, closing all nonessential businesses in an effort to slow its spread. This week in Collin County, Judge Chris Hill also implemented a shelter-in-place order, though he did not order nonessential businesses to close. One day later, Denton County Judge Andy Eads announced that residents are ordered to stay at home as of 11:59 p.m. March 25, except to perform essential activities, work to provide essential business and government services, or perform essential public infrastructure construction, including housing.
“All social events must stop. Period. That alone will have the greatest impact on our community,” Eads said, adding that it was critical to ensuring that local hospitals don’t become flooded with COVID-19 cases.
Results from a recent McKinney Chamber of Commerce survey reveal that 81 percent of the city’s businesses expect a drop in revenue. In response, 55 percent will be cutting back on spending, and 47 percent are reducing their staff temporarily. (Hopefully.) In addition, 74 percent of local businesses are making changes to their day-to-day operations.
Of course, not everyone is suffering the same plight. On March 23, Domino’s Pizza put out a help-wanted ad for 1,800 new delivery drivers, customer service representatives, and managers in the DFW metroplex alone.
By the time COVID-19 abates, it’s inevitable that a large population of small, neighborhood businesses will be closed permanently.
“We are definitely seeing a lot of businesses panicking—and rightfully so,” Frey says. “Some are shutting downs; others are seeing it in the foreseeable future. Restaurants and bars are told by the county to shut down, or not have people inside of them.”
Looking beyond simply the economy, even mental and physical health is being affected.
Business owners call Frey, asking for ways to reduce costs and save money, wondering what to tell employees they must lay off, and how to ask for loan payment deferment. She recommends that business owners look into the SPA loan disaster program. Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that Texas has received approval of emergency designation by the Small Business Administration. Small businesses may visit sba.gov/disaster to apply for long-term, low-interest loans to help cover general obligations like payroll and other expenses.
Frey recommends business owners find ways to collaborate with those who would normally be competitors. She also suggests they go to their landlords and see if they’ll defer rent. “They may be hurting just as much as you are, but something is better than nothing,” she says.
Local chambers of commerce in Plano, Frisco, and McKinney are available, offering social media groups where small business owners can discuss their situation with others, giving advice and assistance where they can. McKinney Chamber of Commerce has posted resources like A Quick Start Guide to Running Your Business Remotely.
Often, however, business owners call Frey simply to talk to someone.
“Overall, it’s a very sobering time,” Frey says. “We aren’t just business owners; we’re people. We have kids and older parents. We are worrying about lots of different things [right now].”
Every employee, she explains, might have children that are home from school and need care. Perhaps people aren’t able to go to their houses of worship. Some may be unable to visit grandparents in retirement homes. The threads of daily life have been utterly disrupted.
Some businesses, like Lyla’s, a clothing and home decor boutique also approaching its three year anniversary in downtown Plano, are asking customers to call in orders for curbside pickup or browse their boutiques online and have purchases shipped to them. Lyla’s has also begun running merchandise shows on Facebook Live.