Tracy Perkins runs Strawberry Hedgehog, an ecologically conscious vegan boutique that carries its own soaps plus the wares of other vendors and artists. Need a body cream, beard oil or jar of healing spices? Until recently, Perkins’s brick-and-mortar shop had you covered. But now, the spread of the coronavirus has forced her to partially close.
“The decision to close was not made lightly,” Perkins says. “We will not be able to maintain paying all of our staff. This is a significant impact on them and their ability to live safely as well as a tremendous impact on our bottom line.”
When she speaks to her fellow small business owners, they relay similar stories. “I do not know of a fellow small business that is not in the same boat of confusion and concern for their staff and their future,” Perkins says.
Experts believe that the virus will take months to contain. A vaccine is likely many months away. Facing monthly rent, the expiration of perishable inventory, a spread of taxes and other obstacles in the immediate future, how can temporarily closed small businesses survive?
Even with her bare bones staff, online store and wholesale accounts (like Whole Foods), Perkins says she needs help in the form of eviction protection, a moratorium on payroll taxes, financial relief and in other areas. “I would like to see something targeted from the local government, she says, “And I would like to see leadership make our community’s physical and financial health a priority.”
Perkins’ voice is just one in a chorus of small business owners, who are urging Governor Doug Ducey and the state legislature to provide immediate help. Within the last week and a half, a few petitions have circulated, with hundreds of small business owners adding their signatures.
This week, Strawberry Hedgehog joined many small business operators who signed one such letter, the “Small Business Owners Letter,” in coordinated tweets at figures like Ducey and Senator Kyrsten Sinema. The letter notes that relief provided by the Small Business Administration falls short, and calls for emergency relief.
A similar petition written by Danielle Leoni, chef-owner at the recently closed The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, has more than 1,000 signatures. Addressed to Governor Ducey, the letter lays out problems and solutions a little more narrowed to Arizona’s independently owned restaurants.
“People have shuttered their doors from a state of emergency,” she says. “And then we have people who are struggling to keep their businesses running by altering their business model. At the end of the day, whether your doors are open or shut, we’re all concerned with how we can pay these bills that keep rolling in.”
In the letter, she calls for eight points of action. They include deferral of rent and mortgage deadlines, payroll tax relief and new legislation requiring insurance companies to cover business disruption insurance claims.
To have kept her restaurant open, Leoni believes, would have been irresponsible. Her guests were crowding too close, despite warnings. Preparing takeaway food involves touching: of food, of plastic, of credit cards. She believed, too, that her employees were at risk. Laid off, at least they could file for unemployment benefits.
“We all deserve to be safe,” Leoni says. “We shouldn’t have to be worried about should I pay my landlord, or should I risk being infected by a deadly disease.”
Leoni mailed the letter to Governor Ducey on Monday. As of yesterday, no reply.