Businesses adapt, ‘tough it out’
- Published: March 27, 2020
Spring, the time when people plant gardens and remodel their homes, is usually the busiest season for hardware stores. But for Yellow Springs Hardware in the current coronavirus crisis, not so much.
Yet the hardware store remains open, one of only a handful of businesses downtown still open to walk-in customers. As part of Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 22 order that Ohioans must stay home, all businesses deemed nonessential were instructed to shut their doors.
Hardware stores are considered an essential business, so Yellow Springs Hardware will stay open, at least for now, even though business is slow. Soon after DeWine’s Sunday announcement, store owners Shep Anderson and Gilah Pomeranz had to tell their employees that they should no longer come to work, although all were assured that their jobs will be there when the crisis ends. The store is also operating under reduced hours, now 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
The governor’s edict made a difficult decision easier, however. It’s been stressful, according to Anderson in an interview last week, to balance the financial needs of his employees with his concerns for their health, and to balance all of those concerns with the couple’s desire to serve the community.
And there is worry about his own health, and that of Pomeranz.
“My job is to interact with people, to handle cash, to touch things,” he said. “There are times I would like to be home.”
But he and Pomeranz are still serving customers, having marked the floor to show people where they should stand to keep the required six-feet of distance from others. They wear gloves and wipe down surfaces as much as they can — they even wipe down their pens.
They’re still open, and customers say they are grateful.
“We’re helping people fix the problems they have,” Anderson said. “They still need to fix things.”
Mainly, the couple said separately, they stay open because doing so fills a need in the village.
“We want to do this,” Pomeranz said Monday. “We want to serve the community.”
Food venues open
In recent interviews with 12 downtown business owners, almost all noted the many sources of stress they are facing. These include trying to balance the health needs of customers with the financial and health needs of employees, along with their own concerns about health, all the while watching their sales decline. They want to make good decisions, but critical information changes daily, sometimes hourly.
And they’re worried about whether their businesses will survive.
“I’m looking at 30 years of work, and wondering if it’s all down the tubes,” said Don Beard, co-owner, with his wife, Christine, of Peach’s Grill, Ye Olde Trail Tavern and the Import House. All of those businesses are now closed, temporarily.
While some business owners have wrestled with whether to stay open, some of those that provide food say they have an easier choice.
“You have to keep feeding people,” said Brian Rainey, owner of the Sunrise Cafe downtown, and Calypso Grill, which are both open for carry out and delivery.
The business owner feeding the most local people is Tom Gray, owner of Tom’s Market. Unlike most downtown stores, Tom’s has been doing a healthy business as villagers stock up on food and supplies, and cook at home more than usual. The store is open regular hours, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and many employees, such as himself, are working longer hours than usual.
“We’re doing the maximum business we can do, with our current staff,” he said on Friday. This week, however, things have slowed down, with fewer shoppers piling up three or four of the same food items in their carts, as they did last week.
There are some empty shelves, especially in staples such as pasta, rice and beans and, of course, toilet paper. However, shelves are restocked on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Gray credits his 30 employees with allowing him to meet the demands of the current crisis.
“We have excellent employees, and they’re willing to work longer hours,” he said. Helping to expand capacity has been Gray’s wife, Evelyn, who has stepped in many days to run a third register.
Tom’s is also partnering with the Senior Center to offer delivery to the community; the service had previously been offered only to seniors. For information, contact the center at 937-767-5751 and leave a message.
The store also intends to provide a safe space for shoppers, Gray said, stating that sanitizing wipes are available for both employees and customers to wipe down surfaces, and employees wipe down door knobs regularly.
“We’re dealing with it,” he said.
The village’s health food store, Starflower Natural Foods, will also remain open, according to owner Marnie Neumann last weekend. The store’s modified hours are 1 to 6 p.m. daily.
Her regular customers have been stocking up, according to Neumann.
“We’ve been busier than ever,” she said, noting that her customers are especially interested in immune boosters such as elderberry and zinc products, along with Vitamin C. And, she said, she has toilet paper in stock. Anyone with special requests is asked to call the shop.
While Neumann said that she has no personal health concerns regarding the threat of coronavirus, she is following safety precautions in the store.
Things have been slow at Current Cuisine, although the business is still producing its wide array of deli items. The business put together a delivery menu that villagers seem to appreciate, according to co-owner Karyn Current.
However, Current has had to lay off about five employees, and now operates with a small crew. Any employee who feels uncomfortable working with the public is urged to stay home, Current said. Regular hours of 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. have been shortened to 11 a.m. to 6.
The store tries to help customers stay the required six feet apart, she said, and follows other safety precautions, such as regularly sanitizing surfaces and washing hands.
“We are trying our best,” Current said. “It’s a different world now.”
Sunrise Cafe, Calypso Grill
“It’s been a roller coaster emotionally,” according to Brian Rainey, who owns the downtown restaurant Sunrise Cafe. He also owns the Calypso Grill.
Since Gov. DeWine’s March 15 order that all sit-down restaurants and bars had to close, Rainey has reconfigured Sunrise for carry-out and delivery. While his menu is a bit streamlined — he now offers one daily special rather than three — the restaurant offers its regular menu items from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 to 9 p.m. They are closed on Tuesdays.
Because he had to lay off more than half of his employees, a skeletal staff prepares and cooks all the food.
“It’s me and my managers toughing it out,” Rainey said.
While business is slower than when customers could dine in, Rainey is grateful for the amount of carry-out business he has.
“Lots of people come to support us,” he said. “I feel like the town is rallying behind us.”
Rainey and his employees are following safety precautions, and he has placed a table by the front doorway for carry-out orders, so customers and staff don’t interact.
The Calypso Grill, on U.S. 68 South, is also offering its regular carry-out and delivery menu, he said.
While Rainey said he sometimes worries about the health risk for his employees and himself, he feels compelled to keep cooking, and to serve the community.
“You want some food, I’ll make you some food,” he said.
The Winds Cafe and Wine Cellar
The hardest part of the pandemic crisis for Winds owner Mary Kay Smith has been telling her employees that, as of right now, they don’t have a job. Recently, she had to lay off about 28 of her 32 employees.
While they can file for unemployment, she knows that those payments only cover 50 to 60% of her employees’ wages. She urges villagers to contact their elected representatives and encourage them to pass legislation so that unemployment actually covers 100% of wages.
As of this week, the restaurant is filling carry-out orders only from 3 to 8 p.m.
“Our niche is more dinner than lunch,” she said.
The Winds Wine Cellar continues to sell its regular items, including wine, beer and bread. Smith said she is now doing all the baking herself.
The store is especially conscious of safety now due to the virus, she said, though being careful around food is nothing new for The Winds. She does plan to have a table next to the restaurant’s front door so customers can pick up their orders without interacting with staff.
Smith has been heartened by the “amazing response” from the community for The Winds carry-out, although it’s hard to know how long the most recent changes will continue.
“It’s week by week, day by day,” she said, urging customers to check in with The Winds’ Facebook page for new information.
Dino’s, brewery open
Dino’s Cappuccinos is continuing to offer its coffee products on a carry-out basis, according to owner Dean Pallotta on Tuesday morning. Store hours are 6:15 a.m. to noon Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Sunday.
The Yellow Springs Brewery remains open for carry-out daily from 1 to 7 p.m., according to the business website. Delivery is also available to those in the 45387 zip code area, if the order is placed online.
Some restaurants closed
Six downtown restaurants have shut down temporarily since DeWine ended dining-in service.
The Emporium/Underdog Cafe closed on Sunday, March 15, following DeWine’s announcement, but reopened on Friday, March 20, for the sale of wine, beer, liquor and coffee during reduced hours. However, following DeWine’s March 22 order that all nonessential businesses close, the Emporium chose to close.
“We decided our business is not essential,” owner Kurt Miyazaki said on Monday.
According to co-owner Don Beard, Peach’s Grill and Ye Olde Trail Tavern also are closed, since those restaurants were not configured to offer carry-out.
While Ha Ha Pizza attempted to continue as a carry-out service after closing its dining room on March 15, its business declined more than 75%, according to owner BJ Walters. Consequently, the business closed its doors on Saturday, March 21, for the duration of the pandemic restrictions.
However, Walters wants to make clear that he plans to open again. Because he had been trying to sell the business, there were rumors that Ha Ha, which started in the 1970s, had closed for good. That is not the case, Walters said last weekend.
“Ha Ha will reopen,” he said. “We’re just waiting this out.”
Other downtown restaurants temporarily closed are Bentino’s Pizza, Spirited Goat Coffeehouse and Lucky Dragon. The Green Canteen has also closed.
Pharmacy, Unfinished Creations, Glen Garden Gifts doing business
Essential businesses allowed to stay open include pharmacies, and Benzer Pharmacy, formerly Town Drug, continues to serve customers, though the store closed its doors to inside foot traffic Wednesday morning.
A sign on the door says customers will be served at the door and should either call ahead or knock.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 on Saturday.
The store also offers prescription delivery for free.
Another downtown business remaining open this week is Unfinished Creations, which is allowed to stay open because it sells office supplies, and is thus considered an essential business.
“I’ve sold a lot of paper,” owner Pam Hogarty said this week.
The biggest seller at the store, however, has been art supplies, as local moms and dads have purchased the store’s paints, crayons and paper for their children who are now home from school.
Hogarty is mostly keeping regular store hours, although she may sometimes close earlier than usual.
Glen Garden Gifts is allowed to stay open because it provides flowers for funerals, according to owner Julie Quinones this week. Because walk-in business has been very slow, the store is closing its doors, but employees still retrieve messages from the store phone. According to Quinones, customers should feel free to call and leave a request.
Also, because employee Daria Mabra lives in town, she is available to deliver flowers. Mabra encouraged customers to contact her via the store’s Facebook page, or leave a phone message.
Gas stations are also considered an essential business, and the Speedway and Nipper’s Corner both remain open. According to Jane Nipper on Tuesday, customers may purchase regular carry-out items, including wine and beer.
Banks are also considered essential businesses, and remain open, though both U.S. Bank and Wesbanco have opted for drive-thru only business. Those banks have closed their lobbies to the public, though bank customers can still make appointments to meet with bank employees in the lobby. YS Federal Credit Union continues to be open for its regular hours, and has launched a new emergency loan progra.
Getting creative at YS Toy Company
A week ago Monday, owner Jamie Sharp decided to shut down the Yellow Springs Toy Company, due to slow business.
However, Sharp is launching a new website, http://www.ystoyco.com, where customers can order toys from the store. She’s mindful that with children home from school, parents may have a need for new activities to keep the kids busy.
Sharp also hopes that the current crisis brings attention to the needs of small local businesses. She’s been disheartened to read negative comments about local businesses on social media, comments that reflect a lack of understanding of challenges faced by business owners.
She wonders if the comment writers understand how precarious it is to operate a small business in Yellow Springs, where many businesses, she said, operate “close to the bone.”
“I hope this situation emphasizes to our community the importance of small businesses,” she said.
Yellow Springs News printing
Another downtown business that’s allowed to stay open is the Yellow Springs News, which has eight full-time employees, and several who work part time.
According to editor and co-owner Megan Bachman this week, all the employees who can work at home are doing so, and the doors were closed to customers a week ago. The business wipes the premises, including phones and keyboards, down regularly. Employees are also working on keeping the production process as safe as possible.
News employees remain highly motivated to put out the paper, Bachman said.
“It feels especially important to help people stay connected at a time when we are physically separated,” she wrote in an email.
“In addition to state and local updates on the evolving situation, we are also hoping to present practical advice, and bring some levity through photos and stories of villagers who are keeping joy in their lives in these times,” she wrote.