Frozen and frustrated, Small-business owners absorb financial hit before holidays

EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE The Cornbread Cafe in historic downtown Springfield on Main Street closed during the pandemic. A different restaurant is moving into the space, which is under renovation, the building’s owner said.

Crumpled-up masks lay strewn on sidewalks as fall foliage collects in rain puddles on an empty parking lot. It’s a common scene these days, a new reality seen through a scope of ongoing despondency. We’re all beaten down from this virus. But we haven’t shaken this thing yet. 

Back in March, when only three people tested positive for the coronavirus, not much was known about how the virus was spread. Schools were still in session. People still hugged. Parents still had jobs. Businesses were still operating at max capacity. Health experts were not yet blue in the face from stressing prevention measures. 

It’s been eight months living with the virus. Through the business shutdowns, some businesses and organizations were able to readjust, others were forced to fold. And while we have learned a lot, case numbers indicate that we haven’t come far enough. 

With the holidays looming, and as case numbers continue to spike, on Nov. 18, Gov. Kate Brown issued a statewide “freeze” through Dec. 2. 

In Lane County, 3,386 positive cases are reported, with 307 infected and 36 dead. Since last week, OHA reports Creswell has 43 (+2) positive cases; Cottage Grove with 83 (+6); 716 in Springfield (+64); and 20 (+2) in Pleasant Hill. 

Dr. Jim McGovern, PeaceHealth Oregon network vice president for medical affairs and COVID-19 incident commander, said the coronavirus began to ramp up locally post-Labor Day. While hospitals find the increase in cases still to be “manageable,” McGovern said that “Having a reasonable level of paranoia or anxiety over the next several weeks will serve well and keep the community safe over the holidays.” 

Before Labor Day, PeaceHealth RiverBend was averaging about five people hospitalized for COVID a day; now, the hospital is averaging 15-20 people daily. Patients who test positive for COVID in the PeaceHealth networks are transferred to RiverBend in Springfield. 

McGovern attributes the Labor Day surge to people “feeling overconfident or safe, and not following the rules of social distance and masking. At that point, the community lost control of COVID and let it out of the box.” And the same thing happened around Halloween; cases dipped down in October and have now begun to trend back up in recent weeks, McGovern said. 

Overall, “We have been extremely lucky in Lane County … and vast amounts of people have masked and followed the requirements,” McGovern said. Across the state, 54,795 people have tested positive for the virus, and 765 people have died. Across the country, 254,251 people have died. “If you look around, the country’s hospital systems are overwhelmed … it is real. It has not impacted this immediate area as much as other places, and that is a testament to the people who are doing the right things.” 

The two-week freeze is intended to address the rising COVID-19 cases within Oregon, in addition to a travel advisory jointly issued with Washington and California, Gov. Brown said. 

The 2-week freeze will:

* Limit all social gatherings to no more than six people, and two households. 

* Limit faith-based organizations to a maximum of 25 people indoor or 50 people outdoors.

* Limit restaurants and bars to takeout service only.

* Limit grocery stores and pharmacies to 75% capacity.

* Prohibit indoor visits at long-term care facilities.

* Close gyms, museums, indoor entertainment activities, indoor pools and sports courts.

* Close outdoor recreational facilities, zoos, gardens and aquariums. 

* Close outdoor and indoor event venues.

* Encourage increased use of work from home.

* Requests travelers from out of state to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving. 

“It’s always a stressful time when there’s additional guidelines that you have to adopt. It’s all been rough for everybody. It affects us,” said Deborah Kerr, owner of The Mercantile in Springfield.


Glenn Myers, owner of Trash n Treasures Antiques & Collectibles in Springfield, said he expects this freeze to be just as financially stressful as the first go-around.  

“Especially stressful, there is no help this time,” he said. 

The first shutdown caused the shop to close for two months. His saving grace, how he financially survived the pandemic, was to dip into his savings and sell his merchandise on the internet. 

“I burned up the savings a little bit. And I did a lot of eBay stuff to help offset closure. At the time people had the stimulus (money) so people were shopping online. This time they don’t have any money,” Myers said. “The fact that last time eBay exploded … helped me that time. This time I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to handle it. Take it as it comes, I guess.”

Because of the large space and the already-implemented safety measures in place at the store, Kerr hopes the negative impacts of the two-week freeze at The Mercantile will be minimal.

“We have 6,000 square feet; they want people to reduce down to 75% customer capacity. It shouldn’t affect us. People come in until the hour we close but they pace themselves nicely,” Kerr said. “As far as I can tell, it won’t modify our hours.”

Rhonda Early, owner of Bochetto Day Spa in Cottage Grove, also had to close her business for two months after the first shutdown. These past eight months have been the most financially trying since the spa opened 14 years ago, she said. 

“Financial stress is the biggest change from being open the last 13 years compared to these last eight months,” Early said. “We’re just hanging in there. It definitely affected us and it’s scary. It has not been a good year financially for anybody … The hardest thing was – it was great we got unemployment, but we didn’t get anything until we had gotten back and was working for a while.” 

Shane May, owner of Emerald Fitness Club in Creswell and Cottage Grove, is especially feeling the pain of the freeze, he said.

“Talk about deja vu,” May said. At the start of the pandemic, his fitness clubs were shut down for three months. It took a time for people to come back to the gyms after restrictions were lifted, he said, but eventually members grew less apprehensive, learned to work out with masks on and business began to pick back up.

EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLENotices of closure for non-payment and sale of equipment are taped to the front entrance of the Dark & Stormy bar on Main Street.

“I am OK with restrictions but I am not OK with being shut down,” May said. “I wish we would have been given some sort of restrictions instead. We have to lay another 10 employees off, after laying off 15 employees the first time around that we still haven’t gotten back.”

As a facility with thousands of members, “So many people physically and mentally need this – physical therapy, personal training – the impacts go far beyond a gym user. And it’s wintertime now and people can’t go outside to work out. We already know depression sinks in this time of the year when it gets more dreary in Oregon; at least with the first shutdown we had great weather.” 

What helped keep the fitness club going through the pandemic was community support and dipping into personal savings, May said. “A lot of people were still paying their dues during the shutdown, telling us, ‘We want you to be here when you are able to reopen again.’ 

Like everyone else, May will just have to wait it out and “see how it goes.” In the meantime, he said he’ll support local restaurants for takeout. “People don’t think it matters, but $20 or $30 for a business makes a huge difference. We need to take care of our local businesses.”

Emma Routley contributed to this report.  



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