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For small business, contingency planning a big deal

Small business owners brave a new frontier as they face Gov. Reynolds state mandates in the wake of COVID-19

Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a statewide public health disaster emergency as of noon Tuesday that includes limiting gatherings to 10 people and closing bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses until at least the end of the month in response to the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

“Do I hope to God that’s what it is, at the end of the month, and life goes back to normal? Yes, I do. Do I think that it is going to be longer? Yes, I do. Personally seeing where other countries and other states are, we are going to hit a peak eventually,” said Britni Kawa, co-owner of A&G Restaurant and Lounge. “If everyone is smart and follows the guidelines ... that’s the only way we’re all going back to day-to-day business.”

Like Kawa, the emergency announcement had an immediate effect on many Iowa business owners, who were caught off-guard with the sudden announcement and found themselves spending Tuesday morning making contingency plans as they worry about the future.

A&G will be offering carry out services, and Chris Doster of CrossFit TYL said he sent a group message his gym’s members announcing that they will post workouts online and allowing members to check out equipment.

“If we’re going to be closed ... I thought we might as well let them use this equipment that is just going to be sitting here doing nothing,” said Doster. “We are just going to be doing the best we can to help everyone keep staying healthy.”

For Doster, and Britni and Jake Kawa, their small businesses are their main source of income, which concerns them about their ability to support themselves and their families. Britni Kawa said she is concerned of a wide spread layoff.

“People are not going to have an income, so at the end of the day that means we won’t have an income,” said Kawa. “But we’re taking it day by day.”

Doster said it’s hard to tell how far-reaching the impact of the closures or modified services will be, but he believes the financial hit will be felt the hardest by small businesses.

“McDonald’s isn’t going to close. Small businesses are the ones that will be hit,” said Doster. “I don’t have a big surplus of cash to carry me four or eight weeks or however long. I’m already doing the best I can to create value for my members and non members in terms of nutrition or anything else I can do to help get me through this. Otherwise, I’ll be talking to my landlord to see if he will have some leniency during this time.”

Tuesday morning, Shyanne Bird and the management of the Elms Club met with its 23 employees to discuss what to do following the governor’s announcement.

“We’re taking all precautions and we’re just closing our doors until further notice,” said Bird.

Bird also said she was concerned about riding out the COVID-19 related closures, but that in tough times, they can handle it.

“My husband and I are the ones that run this place, and we have two young girls, so it affects us a lot,” said Bird. “But anything we can do to help each other, we will all work it out together one way or another. We just want to make sure everyone is taken care of.”

Bird said, even through the lack of income will hurt, her main concern is that virus doesn’t spread and infect anymore people.

Kawa said she has already received messages of support from customers, one of which suggested she promote the sale of gift cards to be used at a future date. Kawa agreed that this is an opportunity all small businesses could utilize.

‘I’ve also had way more supportive messages saying, ‘We will support you no matter what, even if you’re closed.’’” said Doster. “My members are amazing ... they are already grateful for the service we do offer and they want that to keep going.”

Proclamation

Reynolds said she took the extraordinary action in activating the public health response and recovery aspects of the state disaster emergency plan to slow the community spread of the virus that has now triggered 29 confirmed cases in Iowa and likely will grow in the future.

The order takes significant steps to require social distancing and limit community spread of the virus by implementing temporary measures including moving restaurants to drive-through, carryout and delivery only and closures of certain entities such as bars and recreational facilities.

The proclamation also allows state agencies additional flexibility in responding to the unprecedented COVID-19 situation and supports the critical work of public health, Reynolds said in a news release.

“These are unprecedented times and the state of Iowa will do whatever is necessary to address this public health disaster ... I have authorized all available state resources, supplies, equipment and materials to combat the spread of COVID-19,” said Reynolds. “The actions taken today are necessary to protect the health and safety of all Iowans and are critical to mitigating the spread of the virus.”

Under Reynolds’ directive, all restaurants and bars are closed to the public for now, but food and beverages may be sold on a carryout or drive-through basis if they are promptly taken from the premises or are delivered to customers off the premises.

Other businesses temporarily closed by the governor’s action include all fitness centers, health clubs, health spas, gyms and aquatic centers; all theaters or other performance venues at which live performances or movies are shown; and all casinos and other facilities conducting gaming operations.

Social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people are prohibited at all locations and venues, including but not limited to parades, festivals, conventions and fundraisers. Facilities that conduct adult day services or other senior citizen centers must close as well.

Other provisions of the emergency order temporarily eased licensing and regulatory provisions of Iowa law — including rules pertaining to vehicle weight limits of highways, telemedicine services and driver’s licenses.

Reynolds also directed all state agencies to “coordinate expeditiously in developing plans to mitigate the economic effects of the closings necessitated by this disaster, including potential financial support, regulatory relief, and other executive actions.”

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