Chandler businesses in dire straits The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler businesses in dire straits

Chandler businesses in dire straits
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By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

This time of year is normally busy for Griffin Perry’s limousine business.

High school students in Chandler are booking rentals for their upcoming proms and brides are scheduling caravans for their spring weddings.

But the coronavirus pandemic put an end to it all.

The company immediately took a hit once public health officials discouraged Arizonans from attending festivals, sporting events or any large gathering.

“Our phones should be ringing right now,” Perry said, “but we haven’t been getting any phone calls.”

Perry’s business is one of many Chandler businesses feeling the impact of protocols put in place to keep the COVID-19 virus from spreading. As more restrictions are implemented to keep citizens from venturing outside their homes, the city’s brick-and-mortar stores are noticing a rapid decline in business.

To help those businesses – and connect Chandler residents with them – the Chandler Chamber of Commerce created a dynamic web page offering information to business owners but also provides residents with a list of some of the many restaurants stopping in-store dining but are providing curbside pick-up and/or delivery.

This information is at chandlerchamber.com/chandler-chamber-covid19.

Perry said his company, GES Transportation, has had at least 10 cancellations in the last couple weeks and he’s not sure what the future will look like.

“It’s mainly what our services are used for,” Perry added. “It’s been a struggle.”   

GES Transportation is trying to think of creative ways to make its vehicles useful for smaller gatherings, he said, but it’s been a challenge.

Denise McCreery, who owns d’Vine Gourmet on Alma School Road, said reaction to the coronavirus came quickly and suddenly.

Customers started calling her on March 11 to cancel orders. Then it just snowballed from there, McCreery recalled, with multiple cancellations coming in by the end of the week.

On the Monday after Gov. Doug Ducey announced a statewide closure of all schools, McCreery had to wait until nearly 1 p.m. before getting her first customer.

The retail center where her shop is located has turned into a ghost town, she noted, which worries the small business owner.

“I can’t afford to not have people walk through my door for more than a day or two,” McCreery said.

She recently ordered 120 pounds of peanuts to turn into specialty nut mixes. But if no orders come in during the next four weeks, McCreery said the shelf life of those peanuts will expire.

D’Vine Gourmet is known for selling various wines, desserts, and unique snacks like prickly pear-flavored popcorn. McCreery said businesses like hers are usually the first casualty of a major economic crisis.

“We’re a luxury service and it’s the first thing to go when people start being careful or cautious,” she said.

Chandler’s entertainment venues are also noticing fewer patrons coming in the door and worry how long COVID-19 will impact their business.

Kate Obermiller operates an escape room on Alma School Road and said she’s had to refund nearly all the corporate events and birthday parties previously scheduled.

The business, which has groups of players solving puzzles to escape out of a room, has made adjustments in response to COVID-19 to ensure groups don’t come into close contact and potentially infect each other with the virus.

Though Obermiller’s seen more families coming in to play recently, she hopes to see more bookings soon and is assessing the situation one day at a time.

“We have enough savings to get by for a short period,” Obermiller said, “But an extended period of fear in the public and market turmoil would devastate our business.”

To help small businesses, Congress took action last week, although some wondered if it is enough to keep them afloat.

The Senate gave overwhelming approval to a multibillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill, the second in two weeks, and immediately turned its attention to a third bill potentially with a $1 trillion price tag.

Both Arizona senators voted for the bill that passed 90-8 after the House agreed to weaken language that could have forced small businesses to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to workers grappling with COVID-19.

The bill, which President Donald Trump quickly signed, would let the Labor secretary exempt businesses with fewer than 50 workers from the paid leave requirement, in the face of a labor shortage.

This was not enough for the leader of a small-business group in Arizona, who has said the financial burden could drive small firms into bankruptcy and noted the law does not force the same leave requirements on big businesses.

But supporters said the bill, which also mandates free testing for the coronavirus and expands access to nutrition programs for the low-income and elderly, is sorely needed.

Approval of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act came less than two weeks after passage of a first COVID-19 emergency bill, which directed $8.3 billion to fund research and support federal and state response efforts, among other elements.

But administration and congressional leaders agreed those two bills are not enough to offset the virus’s impact on the economy and already working on economic stimulus packages, ranging from $750 billion to $1 trillion.

The Trump administration is floating a $1 trillion package to include $300 billion to help small businesses, $200 billion to support “distressed sectors of the economy” – $50 billion of which would be for airlines – and $500 billion for direct $1,000 payments to taxpayers as early as next month.

Senate Democrats are pushing a $750 billion plan directed more toward unemployment and foreclosure relief programs. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it “may not be enough,” but the “needs are immediate and strong and our package addresses them.”

Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs at the Economic Policy Institute, said neither proposal addresses the realities workers are facing.

“We think $1,000 is not sufficient to cover the kind of pain people are going to be experiencing,” said McNicholas, who said the payments should be twice the amount. “You can’t just sort of do this once. We have to have a structure in place such that if the economy doesn’t rebound, additional relief is provided directly to households.”

In Chandler, business at Swingin’ Safari Mini Golf on Ray Road had been great up until last weekend, according to owner Debbie Lake, around the time warnings about COVID-19 started circulating.

Spring break is typically when businesses start picking back up after a slow winter, Lake said, but attendance has suddenly come to a halt.

Foot traffic Lake noticed on Saturday was about half of what she normally sees.

“It’s churting us big time,” the business owner said.

She’s trying to ensure the golf course is still a safe place to visit by keeping the facility clean and discouraging groups from standing to close to one another.

Desert Sky Games, located next door to Lake’s business, announced recently it was closing down its game rooms until further notice.

Lake said business owners like her are stuck in a waiting game to see whether the government will intervene and force a statewide shutdown of all recreation services.

A few cities in Arizona have issued proclamations closing down all non-essential businesses. As of Wednesday, the city of Chandler had chosen not to issue a similar proclamation.

When it comes to government intervention, some local business owners think there are some relief measures to be taken to keep businesses open.

Michael Garcia, who owns Sight on Site Mobile Eye Care in Chandler, thinks lowering interest rates on small business loans is a great way to help entrepreneurs survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If businesses can get a loan to get by – with a low interest – it’s going to be really beneficial,” he said.

His business revolves around visiting workplaces and conducting eye exams for a company’s employees. So when the government started telling people to work from home, Garcia’s optometrists didn’t have anyplace to go.

Most of March had been booked up with appointments, Garcia said, but then everyone started calling him to postpone their visit.

Garcia was planning to have a grand opening celebration at his company’s new office near Pecos and McQueen roads. But the event has predictably been delayed until the coronavirus crisis subsides.

In the meantime, Garcia said he’s looking to keep his expenses down by asking his company’s vendors to see if they will accept delayed payments.

“I’m just trying to think outside the box right now and see what can we do to make sure we survive this,” Garcia said.

During this tumultuous time, Griffin Perry of GES Transportation has decided to think optimistically about the future – believing he and Chandler’s other business owners will be able to weather this storm.

“We know we will get through this,” Perry added. “We have to be strong and work together.”

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