Gina Conklin, who co-owns and manages Hubcap Grill restaurants in Seabrook, Galveston and Houston, took the unprecedented step this week of reducing her staff by half, she said.
“We’re just not making the money that we were,” she said. “That’s probably my biggest stress, being worried about my employees. And it’s hard for them to find a second job, with the whole industry cutting back at the same time.”
Jobless claims are surging across the United States after government officials ordered millions of workers, students and shoppers to stay at home as a precaution against spreading the virus, according to The Associated Press. And officials in the cities of Galveston and La Marque and in Harris County, among others, have ordered bars and restaurants to shut dining areas and only provide takeout or delivery options.
Some retailers — from small independently owned businesses to large department stores such as Macy’s — are voluntarily closing stores or limiting hours and crowds.
Nationwide, more than 7,030 people had been diagnosed with the virus as of Wednesday afternoon, up from just 4,200 on Tuesday, and almost 100 people have died, according to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among small business owners in the county, the tone Wednesday was almost uniformly dire.
“This is very scary,” said Gigi Mulvey, owner of Gigi’s Pampered Pets Grooming in Galveston. “I can’t believe we’re all living in a time like this. It’s like a bad movie.”
Mulvey this week shifted operations toward a curbside service, such as many restaurants and businesses in the county have done. But she’s seen a steep decline in bookings and only has about $400 in savings to weather the coronavirus storm, she said.
“I don’t have money saved up,” she said. “Everything I make goes toward paying the shop and house notes.”
Keith Bassett, who owns several properties and businesses in downtown Galveston, told The Daily News that not only was the crisis causing a big financial hit, but the rate at which affairs had deteriorated was so rapid, it’s hard to guess what might happen.
“We’re trying to figure out how to make things work and also keep the world safe,” he said. “We’re meeting every morning and trying to find solutions. Limited hours, I just don’t know. This is more complicated than I signed up for.”
Gracie’s, a retail shop on The Strand, for instance, tried briefly limiting how many people could enter the store at a time starting Tuesday afternoon but, by Wednesday morning, employees decided that was too complicated and shut it down for the time being, Bassett said.
‘UNCHARTED TERRITORY, FULL OF UNCERTAINTY’
As the shutdown continues, business becomes even more grim, Bassett said.
“This hadn’t been a particularly good time for us even before this,” he said. “We financed the first couple months of the year on spring break traffic. We do the same thing during the summer, going through the cycle. But then this struck and while we got one good week, the big week is lost, which is significant.”
Some businesses have begun making the transition to curbside and online services, but that’s just not cost-effective for most places, Bassett said.
Bassett’s businesses joined a growing number that made the decision to shutter shortly after Galveston leaders Tuesday ordered entertainment venues to shut down and restaurants and bars to close off dining rooms and offer takeout and delivery only.
“I thought it was the prudent thing to do, to protect my team, customers and ultimately prevent community spread of the virus,” said Alicia Cahill, owner of The Kitchen Chick, 2402 Market St., a shop that offers kitchen gadgets and merchandise and popular cooking classes.
Some of Cahill’s employees this week were working to ensure the shop is organized and ready to reopen when it’s appropriate, but what happens after that isn’t clear, she said.
“It’s a super fluid situation,” she said. “I hope this is just another storm we move through. We’ve done hurricanes and other things. But I know this is uncharted territory, full of uncertainty.”
Conklin Wednesday told The Daily News she understood some steps, such as the decision in Harris County to stop the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but that she wished local officials would stop short of mandating restrictions on businesses.
“We’d pretty much been following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines,” she said. “We’d been leaving extra space between patrons and using extra hand sanitizer, not using glass, but paper cups.”
Conklin recommended people purchase gift cards or takeout to help businesses through this time.