The abandoned Marketplatz Mall, that used to be vibrant. (Emma Fairbairn )
The abandoned Marketplatz Mall, that used to be vibrant.

Emma Fairbairn

Covid-19: The effects on local businesses

What local businesses are doing to stay afloat during this pandemic.

April 16, 2020

COVID-19 is not only affecting schools and hospitals, but it is also affecting local businesses right here in our community. Governor Walz declared on Sunday, March 15th that all schools in Minnesota would close starting March 18th until March 30th so that teachers could prepare for distance learning. With that, he also ordered that all restaurants and dine-in places close at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17th. With this closing, that included salons and spas. Many small businesses are still considered “essential,” but due to the stay at home order, many have resorted to online stores and “curb-side” pick up. Many of the shops in New Ulm’s historic and vibrant downtown are feeling the impact of this virus more than ever right now.

Owner Christina Schwab, of Inspired, has decided to close her store to customers. She has been trying to stay active on Inspired’s social media pages even more than she already has been. When asked about Inspired’s current employment situation, Christina said, “I am very proud of my staff and feel that because they take so much pride in their work, they want what is best for the store too. They were willing to cut back on hours before us having to close our doors completely. There are tasks to do, and although they would be willing to come in, they understand that it just isn’t possible at this time without generating more sales.” Schwab added that “this is an uncertain time for sure for small businesses. It is incredibly hard to plan when one doesn’t know how long things will last.” She is concerned that this may affect fall shipments and inventory, with many factories shutting down production.

Emma Fairbairn
Inspired’s closed storefront, in abandoned downtown New Ulm.

Although hopeful, Schwab believes that “once everyone is able to come out of quarantine or stay-at-home orders, in no way do I expect them to shop as they did before; the disposable income won’t be there. This will do more than hurt while we’re closed, this setback will be felt the rest of this year, into next.”

Owner and Founder of Bumbelou Jenna Odegard feels pretty confident with her store’s future. Right now, she changed her production from making ages 0-7 kid’s clothes to making cloth face masks for local healthcare facilities. Odegard’s mission at Bumbelou has always been to continue to help people. Ten percent of Bumbelou’s sales goes back to children in need. Odegard made the tough decision as well to close her two locations to the public. When asked about Bumbelou’s current employment situation, Odegard said that “all of our employees were on furlough until this week when we realized we could utilize them with the production of our mask kits. They are back on the payroll, and many are still able to work from home.”

Odegard is very confident that both Bumbelou locations, in New Ulm and Mankato, will make it out on the other end all right. She said, “We’ve had customers that have never shopped with us before online, so new people are experiencing our business online, which is amazing.” Although she is struggling as a person and business owner to figure out what “everyday” looks like. “Just last week we went from making kids clothes to this week making face masks. Our goal is still to give 10% of profits back to children, and right now, our mission is COVID-19,” Odegard said. She also mentioned how the Government has mentioned how small businesses could apply for grants to help support businesses, but that she has yet to be granted one of them. When talking about not receiving grants, Odegard said: “The extra support would be nice, but we are fine, and we are making it day by day, just break even so we can still be here when it is all over.”

Co-Owners Jessica Hoffman and Danielle Marti of Gallery 512 Boutique are also working hard amid their temporary store closure. They are hustling to keep their boutique afloat, so it doesn’t fall through the cracks, which they aren’t anticipating. When asked about their online website, Marti said, “Before the Corona Virus, we had been working on improving our website and adding new features to it since January.” Hoffman stated that “we have been keeping up with Instagram stories to keep our customers shopping with us. We still show up to work every day, so we can stay in front of our customers, reminding them that we’re here.” Unfortunately, all of their employees are temporarily not working. Marti added that “we wish we could employ our staff, but unfortunately, that is not an option right now with our storefronts closed. We miss our staff and tear up thinking about it, but we have the most supportive staff who continue to shop with us and support us.” Marti and Hoffman are taking this time to do things that couldn’t have been possible without a store closure, like renovating their New Ulm location for a fresh new look.

Both Hoffman and Marti commented about how many small local businesses have not received the grants that many politicians have promised. Marti said, “That’s where this all gets frustrating. Don’t say you’re helping when you’re not when you are just making it look like you are.” she also added that she’s thankful their business still has an option to reach customers since many bars and salons can’t make much of a profit during this time.  Marti and Hoffman both agree that people should reach out to local state legislators to voice their opinions, hoping they will provide relief for small businesses.

Emma Fairbairn
A few cars still downtown for essential businesses.

All of these business owners agreed that a significant way to support local small businesses is to shop with them, not only now but when they reopen. If you can’t support small businesses financially, they recommend engaging in their social media. It can be as simple as a like or comment, or as big as a share and some words of encouragement. This, too, shall pass, and many of New Ulm’s historic downtown businesses will be here when it does.

 

 

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