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‘We aren’t making it’: America’s neighborhood stores face uncertain futures | Business

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The ice-cream shop Island Pops in Brooklyn usually sees its business pick up from a winter lull this time of year, when the days are longer and the spring weather sets in.

Instead, its doors are closed to walk-in customers at the order of health authorities hoping to stem the spread of coronavirus by keeping people in New York City out of restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters.

Across the US small businesses selling coffee, cakes, pilates classes, books and artisanal cheese have popped up over the last decade, changing neighborhoods for the better, revitalizing downtowns. Now all that is under threat.

Loyal customers – and some big businesses – are trying to help. Buying gift cards, making donations. But on its current trajectory the scale this unprecedented crisis means many of these businesses just won’t survive.

Cities and states across the US this week issued similar orders to close restaurants to dine-in customers and close businesses which create crowds, leaving small businesses such as Island Pops uncertain how long it can go on.

“The government should understand that, one, we aren’t making it,” said Shelly Marshal, Island Pops’ co-owner. “And two, if we have to close up, there are five or six people who have to go home without pay. If they can bail the big banks out they can definitely bail small businesses out.”

Island Pops in Brooklyn.



Island Pops in Brooklyn. Photograph: supplied

Small businesses are the anchor of the US economy and employed 58.9 million people in 2015. Governments are introducing measures to help ease the burden of forced closures, but business owners are worried that help is coming too little too late as they see an immediate drop in business.

Like countless other businesses, Island Pops is encouraging customers to buy gift cards to use after the crisis passes to try to stem immediate losses. Otherwise, their only other income stream is delivery and pickup orders.

“Even that won’t take us through the month for our responsibilities,” Marshall said. “We have staff, of course we have rent, we have insurance, we have everything that still needs to be paid and we’ve gone through our emergency fund, which is our winter fund.”

As of Thursday morning, Marshall said it was unlikely the business could meet the minimum amount of pints it needs to sell each week. It has even become hard to rely on loyal customers, because they too are losing their jobs, or fearful a recession will limit their funds too.

Marshall said her neighborhood, a gentrifying part of Brooklyn with a lively food and drink scene, has been a “ghost town” this week. During one shift, she commiserated with an independent coffee shop owner, who told her at 2pm she was his fifth customer of the day, after opening at 6am.

Patrick FitzGerald, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, said while people might think the world is technology-focused, small businesses depend on in-person interactions.

“The reality is for 90% of small businesses, it’s face-to-face, one-on-one, transactions,” FitzGerald said. “And at the moment, those have all, for the most part have stalled, so the impact is highly dramatic.”

Technological advances can help, however, and FitzGerald said for any business which has been toying with using video conferencing, at-home delivery or pre-purchasing: “The time is now to deploy those.”


The federal and local governments are also trying to help. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) said it would provide businesses with up to $2m in low-interest loans to keep them afloat. And New York City is one of several local governments offering loan and grant programs to local businesses.

Facebook pledged $100m in grants to impacted stores and restaurants, though the company said it would only start taking applications “in the coming weeks”. Other corporations are also offering services to ease the burden on small businesses, but these efforts don’t address the urgent need to replace the cashflow that comes from someone walking in the door.

So small business are taking creative steps to sell amid a disease outbreak.

Retailers big and small are promoting free and discounted shipping offers. Major chains and local grocery stores have instituted special hours for senior shoppers, who are more vulnerable to a severe coronavirus infection. Yoga studios and boxing gyms have moved classes online.

Capitol Hill bookstore in Washington DC closed its store to walk-in customers, but offered private, one-hour appointments for up to four would-be book buyers at a time.

“We have to do everything in our power to continue our operations, and keep people employed and keep our business viable, at the same time we don’t want to do anything to harm our employer or our customers, or the community at-large,” co-owner Kyle Burk told NPR.

These moves are being made even as restaurants and nightclubs are forced to sharply cut staff.

Also in Washington DC, a “virtual tip jar” was created to allow people to support service workers at local restaurants, hotels and nightclubs who were either laid off, not being paid temporarily or not receiving tips. Other businesses are turning to crowdfunding websites to raise money for their former staff while still trying to keep their doors open.

In New York City, the beloved Frankies Spuntino Group is trying to raise $100,000 for the employees it has had to put out of work. “We’re all navigating uncharted territory right now, so we cannot tell you how much we appreciate your consideration,” wrote the co-owners, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli.

Before closing indefinitely on Friday, it expanded the pick-up and delivery menu. Its handmade pasta, pesto and marinara sauce were sold to at-home chefs. The restaurant also sold martini and negroni kits – the byproduct of an emergency law change to help food businesses during the outbreak.

Previously, only beer could be sold for take-out in New York, but the state liquor board relaxed its laws to allow businesses with liquor licenses to sell liquor and wine to customers who also purchase food.

The Brooklyn cocktail and dessert bar Butter & Scotch had to lay off its entire staff on Monday before closing indefinitely on Thursday. In the few days between, the owner, Keavy Landreth, and the general manager, Stephanie Gallardo, who had been laid off, baked cookies and cakes for to-go orders. They also put together cocktail kits so people could emulate the sweet and boozy experience at home.

“The kits were a last-ditch effort to get some more cash on hand to make sure we could pay our employees and selves before closing fully,” Landreth said in an email. “Had I known they were going to be such a hit I would have tried to make more but there was only so much we could do with two people. Hopefully this new alcohol to-go law sticks around and we can get these cocktail kits off the ground again.”

Island Pops’ Marshall, who was inspired to start the business with her husband after craving the traditional Caribbean soursop ice-cream while sick with another virus, chikungunya, said small businesses are the “lifeblood of the economy” and need all the help they can get.

“We employ a significant amount of employees and we create a ton of employment,” Marshall said. “If they don’t see that, it’s a huge problem in the system.”



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San Antonio man loses job, starts new family business

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SAN ANTONIO – Sunday marked day one for the Cabrales family’s new chapter — a shaved ice business to fight back against the impact of COVID-19.

Days after the shutdown began in mid-March due to the growing concerns surrounding the pandemic, Ismael Cabrales said he received a call from his supervisor.

“He said, ‘Hey, your name came up, and you and several others, today is going to be the last day that you guys are (employed) with us,” Ismael said.

Ismael said he had kept the same job for nine years. Although filled with uncertainty, Cabrales accepted his fate.

“In a way, it’s a sigh of relief,” Ismael said.

The company’s decision allowed him to spend more time with his wife Joana and their five children and to think about their future, Ismael said.

Related: A guide to unemployment benefits for Texans laid off during coronavirus pandemic

“My mind started wondering what our next step (would be),” Ismael said. “Necessity drives creativity (and) if your back is against the wall, you have to be creative with what you do. So, we just started dreaming and this came up.”

Until the Cabrela’s find a permanent spot to work from, they’ll announce pop-up locations and hours on their Instagram.
Until the Cabrela’s find a permanent spot to work from, they’ll announce pop-up locations and hours on their Instagram. (Cristian Ortiz-Salas)

Joanna and Ismael said after some brainstorming that they had the resources to venture into the food business and create Lina’s Treats and Cafe, a small traveling food truck that serves shaved ice.

“I don’t think you’ll find anything like us. We want to be different. Most of the products that we sell are natural. We want to stay biodegradable. We want to stay environmentally friendly,” Ismael said.

Sunday afternoon at the parking lot of Broadway Loft near The Pearl, marked the business’ first day open to the public, just in time to help keep locals cool in triple-digit heat.

Their menu offers a variety of options including sweet flavors like Berry Fun or The Hawaiian with pineapple and coconut, refreshing flavors like El Mojito with mint and lime and bold options like Cold Brew that features a locally roasted coffee from Solid State Coffee Co topped with vanilla ice cream.

The couple's children help make the strawberry drizzle that tops the Berry Fun shaved ice option.
The couple’s children help make the strawberry drizzle that tops the Berry Fun shaved ice option. (Ismael Cabrales)

Joana said the family jumped in to help with the new venture.

“I have four daughters and one son,” Joana said. “When they heard that we were going to start this business, they were all in just because they like helping in the kitchen. So, like the strawberry drizzle that we use, they actually help me cook it. They’ll cut up the strawberries and actually cook it and make the drizzle.”

Customers can also find frozen-favorites like mangonadas or fresadas, a delicious mango or strawberry-flavored shaved ice as well as traditional paletas.

RELATED: Only in San Antonio: Mangonada with hot cheetos, pickles & chamoy

The Cabrales family is eager for the San Antonio community to try their cool treats. Each purchase, they said, helps support their dreams as well as their goal to keep their family afloat during the pandemic.

The family hopes to find a permanent spot near downtown to work from on weekends. Businesses interested in renting out an area for the food truck can contact the family at linastreatsandcafe@gmail.com.

For Lina’s Treats and Cafe’s hours and current location, click here.

Copyright 2020 by KSAT – All rights reserved.



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Shaq joins coronavirus-driven koi pond trend

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A team of experts recently installed a huge koi pond at the Atlanta home of Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.

The Shaq-sized water feature includes an 80-foot stream, six waterfalls, 180 tons of stone and a 22-by-50-foot pond with a sandy beach entry and a fire pit on one side, according to Greg Wittstock, the owner and CEO of Aquascape who’s also known as “The Pond Guy.”

“It’s a Ferrari of ponds,” he said.

The pond was built between the 8,600-square-foot home and a large treehouse that was installed for an episode of Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters” about two years ago. Wittstock showed off the finished product in a YouTube video.

SHAQ ADVERTISES $2.5M CALIFORNIA HOME ON INSTAGRAM

“It’s awesome, brother,” Shaq says in Wittstock’s video. “You did a wonderful job.”

Shaq isn’t the only homeowner with a new koi pond. Wittstock said Aquascape, his Illinois-based business, has had a tremendous surge in business as the coronavirus pandemic has kept people at home.

“We cannot keep up,” he said. “We’re working 12-hour shifts six days a week, and I’ve got everybody and their kids working for me.”

Shaq’s new koi pond includes lighting for nighttime viewing. (Aquascape)

HOMEOWNERS SHARPEN THEIR SHORT GAME WITH BACKYARD PUTTING GREENS

Others in the koi business said they’ve also had an uptick interest. Mike Rice, the president of Mt. Parnell Fisheries in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, told FOX Business the coronavirus had reversed a downward trend.

“I feel that the hobby … was beginning to decline domestically prior to the COVID pandemic, but with more people getting into DIY projects there has definitely been an uptick this past spring/summer,” Rice wrote in an email.

Even Google search data show that there were more searches for “koi” in May and June than any other time in the past five years.

TINY HOME, BACKYARD COTTAGE DEMAND SURGES AMID CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Wittstock said he believed people have been looking to create “an escape” at home to help counter the stresses the pandemic has caused.

“I think they just want the peace and tranquility and serenity that a water feature provides,” he said.

It’s a drastic turn compared to the last major economic downturn. The 2008 financial crisis saw a dramatic drop in business. This time, “We had one week in March whenever everybody was in limbo and then it was an explosion,” Wittstock said.

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Most of Aquascape’s business is not large projects like the water feature for Shaq, although Wittstock, who was also the star of the Nat Geo Wild reality series “Pond Stars,” said they do about one large-scale project each year, often for a celebrity client.

Aquascape sells all the pumps, filters, fish and plant care items and other goods one would need for a backyard water feature. A more typical setup for a new client would be an 11-by-16 ecosystem pond, an 8-10-foot stream and a 2-foot waterfall, all with filtration, pumps, plumbing, liner and stonework. A project of that scope would often run somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000, Wittstock said.

The interest since April has been “unbelievable,” he said.

“I can’t even begin to tell you,” he said. “It is insane.”

READ MORE ON FOX BUSINESS BY CLICKING HERE

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Mask sale Uptown to raise funds for businesses | COVID-19

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When a former Uptown business owner saw people’s reactions to Greenwood passing a city ordinance requiring customers and employees at local businesses to wear protective masks, she wanted to do what she could to support business owners.

Nicole Munnerlyn, who owned Sweet Teas Children’s Boutique in Uptown for eight years, said she was surprised by negative comments she saw from people responding to the new ordinance.

“People were saying ‘I just won’t shop Uptown, then,’” she said. “Well, it’s not the city business owners that should be punished or hurt by a city mask ordinance that’s really there to protect people in the first place.”

The family business, Munnerlyn and Co., makes personal protective equipment, including masks and face shields. Munnerlyn said she’s planning to set up a tent from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday in front of Sweet Teas to sell protective equipment, but also to inform the public about masks. For every box sold, 10% of her sales will go to Uptown as a donation to help buy masks for Uptown businesses to use or give to customers.

“After everything that transpired, I just wanted to see what I could do to support our local businesses,” she said. “In addition to being out there, I’d like to educate people too about what needs to be used and what times and places different masks are beneficial.”

She wants to share what research she’s done into masks in order to ensure the ones Munnerlyn and Co. produce are up to FDA standards. The company sells the three-ply masks that are similar to surgical masks, along with KN95 masks that meet the FDA’s 95% filtration requirement.

She wants to show off different ways to test masks, such as by wearing it tautly and then trying to blow air through the fabric. She said if you can blow air through the fabric of the mask, it’s likely not offering much protection.

Before setting up her booth Tuesday, Munnerlyn said she’ll spend much of Monday meeting with Uptown business owners to find out other ways she can help.

Uptown Manager Lara Hudson said the funds raised Tuesday will go to helping businesses buy the protective equipment they need. She said Munnerlyn’s offer was greatly appreciated.

“So many of those businesses are already struggling with the loss of revenues, and they’re going to need to purchase masks,” she said. “Our main goal has been just to help them in any way we can.”

Hudson said even if Greenwood’s business owners might have differing opinions regarding COVID-19 protections, Uptown’s businesses always help one another out.

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.

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