Local businesses feel impact of global pandemic

Chick-fil-A+owner%2C+Ashley+Bellamy%2C+has+encouraged+her+employees+to+begin+writing+encouraging+notes+on+all+bags+given+to+customers+through+the+drive-thru+window.+

Courtesy of Ashley Bellamy

Chick-fil-A owner, Ashley Bellamy, has encouraged her employees to begin writing encouraging notes on all bags given to customers through the drive-thru window.

Maya Waid, Sports Editor in Chief

As COVID-19  takes its toll on the globe, one of the most heavily impacted industries is the restaurant industry. As a result of people being advised to stay home and social distance, local businesses are experiencing a decrease in customer turnout. Beyond’s owner of 10 years, Praserth Seasow, has experienced many changes to his business in recent weeks.

“[COVID-19 has] impacted us greatly. We now can only do takeout and delivery. We can’t seat anyone in our restaurant anymore,” Seasow said. “Our sales went down substantially. We had to let go most of our servers and cut back on kitchen staff hours.”

To adjust to the changes at Beyond, Seasow has made many changes in the menu and the way that the restaurant is run. 

“We just started offering family size trays for pickup. We reduced the price of our wines for take home,” Seasow said. “[The major differences are the] empty dining room and bar. [We only have] to go orders.”

Not only have the customers experienced changes in local restaurants, but their staff members have, too. 

“The hardest part [of the pandemic] is I was not able to keep all of my staff. It was so difficult to let them go even though it’s temporarily. We had great teamwork here and they are not here with us. It is very sad, but we are taking everyone back when things are better,” Seasow said. 

Not only was Beyond greatly impacted, but Aaron Ludwig, owner of Billy Jack’s Wing and Draft Shack and Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint has also experienced major differences due to the virus. 

“[Business] has been really bad. The virus just came out of the blue; it was very unexpected. As business owners, you always have to have some sort of savings and you have your emergency funds set aside, but you never think it is going to have to last two to three months. You never think it will impact you in such a way that you have to close down your dining rooms and totally change how you operate,” Ludwig said.  

Similar to Seasow, Ludwig and his businesses have had to employ new strategies to combat the struggles caused by the lack of customers. 

“We have had to do a lot of innovation and a lot of creative thinking on how to adapt. We really had to get creative with our vendors, reaching out to our banks. Everyone associated with our business is feeling the effects of it. Everyone from our food suppliers, our customers, our bankers… it is a chain reaction that is affecting everybody,” Ludwig said. 

In addition, the staff members at Ludwig’s restaurants are also going through struggles due to being laid off during this time. 

“I had to furlough about three quarters of my staff;  they are waiting for this thing to end so they can get their jobs back,” Ludwig said. “We have been chatting with our city council members as well as economic development as well as Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance because we have been trying to figure out a way to help businesses either by living expenses or creating grants or even low interest loans to help businesses survive.”

While local businesses are struggling, Ludwig believes that there are many things that the customers and the community can do in order to continue their support of restaurants. 

“One of the things that we [started was] putting buttons on our websites at both Jack Brown’s and Billy Jack’s and are asking people to make donations. [All of] these donations will go directly to our staff. Unemployment has been so backlogged nationally and locally so the people who have been laid off still have not received anything from the unemployment office. The amount of money that they would get from unemployment is just a portion of what they would normally get, so we are asking customers to make donations to them,” Ludwig said. 

Ludwig has also begun to change the roles of his staff members to keep on as many people as possible. 

“We are doing carry out and delivery, so every order helps. We have had our bartenders turn into our delivery drivers so that is how they are making tips now. Any carry out and takeout orders and then supporting our staff through our website are the biggest things that we can ask for right now,” Ludwig said. 

Not only does Ludwig believe the community has a big role with supporting businesses, but the state and federal government have provided options as well. 

“[For other local businesses] make sure that you keep your customers in the know, keep them up to date of what you have going on. I think most importantly is to be able to reach out and look for the support that is coming from the state and federal level. There are a lot of low interest loans and I think that is what is going to have to get us through, just having that support from the government,” Ludwig said.  “Also, chatting with their banker and seeing what they can do as far as establishing lines of credit to help get them through this downturn in business, a lot of [times] that can be just enough to pay the bills while business slows down.”

While it is easy to only look at the negatives of the situation, Ludwig and Seasow are both staying optimistic and doing what they can to continue running their businesses. 

“Our biggest asset is always our staff, we always consider them most important. When we see them in a position like this it really is hard to see. We are seeing it all over the state and all over the city so we hope that we can get some things back to normal very soon. We want to make sure that all of the people know that we are still counting on them and that every little bit helps,” Ludwig said.  

 

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